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PHMSA wants comments on railcar standards

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is soliciting comments on the merits of petitions filed with the agency on an interim standard for railroad tank cars used to transport toxic by inhalation hazard (TIH) materials, according to information in the Federal Register.

The groups filing the petitions include the American Chemistry Council, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, Association of American Railroads, Chlorine Institute, Railway Supply Institute, and the Fertilizer Institute.

On April 1, PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) proposed certain operational restrictions, as well as enhancement of TIH tank car performance for standards for head and shell impacts.

The petitioners are asking that the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR parts 171-180) be amended to authorize interim standards for tank cars transporting TIH materials. Both petitions suggest that the interim standards would be effective until such time as PHMSA and FRA adopt enhanced performance standards for TIH tank cars. Comments must be received by August 22, 2008.

The petition notes that part of the PHMSA/FRA proposal was that two years after issuance of a final rule, newly constructed tank cars transporting TIH materials would be required to comply with the new standard. Five years after issuance of a final rule, only tank cars constructed of normalized steel could be used to transport TIH materials. Eight years after issuance of a final rule, all tank cars transporting TIH materials would need to be in compliance with the new standard.

"The proposed standard represents an innovative approach to tank car design," the petitioners stated. "The purpose of the proposed standard is to significantly reduce the probability of release should a tank car be involved in an accident. However, the tank car industry cannot meet the standard today; the NPRM (notice of proposed rulemaking ) is truly technology-forcing."

The petition pointed out that the proposal has had the unintended consequence of providing an incentive for shippers and lessors to stop purchasing tank cars, pending the issuance of the final rule because investments in new tank cars cannot be justified unless those cars will be used for at least 20 years. The group also noted that typical tank cars have a service life of about 50 years.

The group proposes that PHMSA promulgate an interim standard that provides for the construction of tank cars that significantly reduce the probability of release of product using existing technology and grandfather those cars for 25 years after the final rule is issued.

Comments on the petitions should be made by August 22, 2008. For more information, see the proposal online in the Federal Register.

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