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AFPM asks for derailment position to be made clear

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Charles T. Drevna, President of the AFPM sent the following letter to Anthony Foxx, US Secretary of Transportation, in response to the Department’s failure to adequately address track integrity as a cause of train derailments.

“You have stated in the past that the DOT will continue to pursue a comprehensive crude by rail safety approach focused on prevention, mitigation and emergency response. AFPM and its members understand that rail safety is a shared responsibility between the shippers and the Class I railroads and we are doing our part as shippers. Our industry is committed to a culture of continuous improvement and making zero incidents the goal. Our commitment has been demonstrated by a voluntary multi billion dollar investment in safer tank cars over the past four years.

“In addition to these investments, our industry has supported updating rail car standards in a manner that significantly enhances release mitigation in the event of a derailment. However, rail car standards only address one element of rail safety: mitigation after derailment. Measures must also be taken to address what has been continuously shown to be the lead cause of rail accidents: track integrity.

“Rail car breach, explosion, or fire have not been cited as the root cause of any crude by rail derailments. Therefore, after hearing comments last week from Sarah Feinberg, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), we are left to wonder how strong a role prevention is playing in DOT’s comprehensive strategy. Ms Feinberg was quoted as saying, ‘we are running out o things that I think we can ask the railroads to do.’ She further stated, ‘railroads, from what we can tell, have not only met all of our demands, they have gone above and beyond.’

“We believe that comments such as these show a fundamental misunderstanding of the root cause of rail accidents. FRA’s own data shows that there were over 1100 Class 1 derailments in 2013, averaging more than three each day; the number one cause being the result of poor track conditions. We cannot believe that you and the rest of the DOT staff believe that these results are acceptable and that a more robust track integrity program would not have an impact on reducing derailments of any kind.

“We continue to be disappointed that nothing in the August 1, 2014 PHMSA tank car and rail operations proposal required railroads to buy one more piece of track inspection equipment, hire one more qualified inspector or inspect one more mile of track. The proposal instead focused predominantly on mandating companies owning tank cars to spend billions of dollars on tens of thousands of new and retrofitted tank cars to mitigate the impacts of accidents.

“Any effort to enhance rail safety must begin with addressing track integrity and human factors, which account for 60% of derailments. Investment in accident prevention would result in the greatest reduction in the risk of rail incidents.

“Ms. Feinberg somewhat repetitively was also quoted as saying, ‘we are getting to a point where I think we’re running out of things what we can put on the railroads to do, and there have to be other industries that have skin in the game.’ We would like to point out that our US$4 billion investment in enhanced tank cars has been done voluntarily in the absence of a DOT tank car standard over the past four years. The commitment to safer transportation by the refining industry and others has led to an 18 month backlog in orders for enhanced tank cars as demand has exceeded the capacity to produce these cars.

“If DOT wants to embark on a comprehensive approach to safely transporting crude by rail, then the Department needs to build on existing investment and regulatory activity that are focused only on enhanced tank cars. It should also explore what measures the rail industry must take to reduce derailments through better track conditions, maintenance and improvements in operations. Unfortunately, the PHMSA rule that will soon be finalised is very heavy on mitigation and very light on prevention.

“Last week’s comments by acting Administrator Feinberg further the perception that the Department is mainly focusing on mitigation and not on prevention. While more robust tank cars will go a long way towards addressing mitigation in the event of a derailment, keeping the trains on the tracks is the only way to ensure that crude and all other rail shipments will be transported in the safest possible manner.

“In light of Ms Feinberg’s remarks, AFPM asks that you clarify the Department’s position. Does DOT believe that the current frequency of derailment is acceptable and that there is nothing further that FRA and the railroads can do to address track integrity, which is the leading cause of crude by rail as well as other incidents? Do you disagree that additional track inspections and more robust track maintenance requirements would significantly enhance safety?

“AFPM as always stands ready to work with DOT to ensure that crude oil is safely transported throughout the nation.”

Edited from press release by Claira Lloyd

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