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Crompion International Influential in Tank Car Regulatory Revamp Process

September 16, 2013

Energy Wire

As U.S. officials weigh tightening standards for crude-hauling rail cars, one point looms large in the debate: Could a sturdier car have made difference in the July 6 deadly oil-train derailment in Quebec? "Advancements have been made in these products, and there are huge benefits in terms of strength, but [manufacturers] can't use them without asking for an exception on a case-by-case basis," said Ken Grantham, executive vice president and director of technical services at Baton Rouge-based metals company Crompion International. Grantham said his company, which often furnishes steel for tank car manufacturers, would participate in the PHMSA rulemaking process "to make sure that the metallurgy involved ... is given serious consideration along with the designs."

As U.S. officials weigh tightening standards for crude-hauling rail cars, one point looms large in the debate: Could a sturdier car have made difference in the July 6 deadly oil-train derailment in Quebec?

For North American rail car manufacturers and lessors such as Trinity Industries and General Electric Railcar Services Corp., that's a billion-dollar question. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has accelerated its efforts to revamp outdated tank car standards in the wake of the Quebec crash and explosion, issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking earlier this month after nearly a year of delays (EnergyWire, Sept. 5).

If PHMSA decides to take safety agencies' suggestions to heart and force rail car owners to upgrade older tankers, it could cost $1 billion, according to industry estimates.

For more than 20 years, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and its Canadian counterpart have warned of design flaws in the DOT-111 tank cars involved in the derailment, which leveled dozens of buildings in the town of Lac-Mégantic and claimed 47 lives. The Canadian TSB renewed its criticism of the model in a letter to PHMSA last Wednesday, writing that the investigation had brought "into question the adequacy of Class 111 tank cars for use in transporting large quantities of low flash-point flammable liquids" such as crude from North Dakota's Bakken Shale play.

Last month, the class proceedings were amended to include tank car lessors Union Tank Car Co., Trinity and GE Railcar. The suit alleges that the companies knowingly provided non-reinforced older models of DOT-111 cars.

Steel decisions

Manufacturers can build tank cars out of a limited number of steels, including carbon or "high alloy" types, according to standards determined by the AAR's Tank Car Committee alongside the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Advancements have been made in these products, and there are huge benefits in terms of strength, but [manufacturers] can't use them without asking for an exception on a case-by-case basis," said Ken Grantham, executive vice president and director of technical services at Baton Rouge-based metals company Crompion International.

Grantham said his company, which often furnishes steel for tank car manufacturers, would participate in the PHMSA rulemaking process "to make sure that the metallurgy involved ... is given serious consideration along with the designs."

"The DOT-111 design is old; they've come up with a new one," Grantham said. "But guess what? The materials list hasn't changed."

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