7 new safety rules for US’ 7 rail freight sisters
The seven dominant railway companies of the US have pledged to adopt a set of seven new rules to try and avoid railway accidents. The rules are to be adopted by all seven Class I rail freight companies in the United States, the only ones with annual revenue of more than 500 million euros. This was announced by the Association of American Railroad (AAR).
The companies are BNSF, Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Kansas City Southern Railway, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific. Transportation State Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged rail freight companies in the country to introduce new inspection technologies and regulations on 21 February. The new rules are implemented as a consequence of the disastrous train accident that occurred on 3 February in Ohio.
New rules for hot-bearing detectors
Three of the seven new rules concern hot-bearing detectors (HBDs). HBDs are devices placed along the track and used to assess the health of railcar components including bearings, axles, and brakes by monitoring their temperatures. The first regulation entails the reduction of space between HBDs on the railway from 64 kilometres (40 miles) to 24 (15 miles).
The second regulation, as AAR explained, establishes a lower temperature threshold for stopping trains and inspecting bearings. Trains will now be stopped when the temperature shown by HBDs exceeds the ambient temperature by 76°C. The third rule concerning HBD is the implementation of trending analyses. According to AAR, trending analyses can identify HBDs that are not yet exceeding absolute temperatures but may become problematic.
All Class I railway companies joined the Confidential Close Call Reporting System
The fourth regulation mentioned by AAR sees all Class I companies joining the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS). C3RS, as explained by the US department of transportation, provides a safe environment for employees to report unsafe events and conditions. The initiatives protects employees against repercussions from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) The C3RS initiative was launched by two of the seven Class I companies, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific, in 2007.
One of the problems with the C3RS is that the information provided by employees is processed by NASA. This leads to issues because the staff at NASA are not familiar with the railway sector and often deem the amount of information provided as not sufficient to act. Moreover, feedback on C3RS communication not related to accidents takes a significantly longer time to reach the rail sector. With the current Nasa’s procedure, waiting time is of at least 30 days, which the AAR want to reduce.
The AAR and the seven Class I companies point out that the FRA might not always keep these reports confidential. They, therefore, ask to implement better protocols to protect the confidentiality of the information provided by the workers. One of the suggestions is to establish a protocol similar to the one adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration.
More training for first responders and wider access to AskRail
The AAR claimed that, as part of the new set of rules introduced, the companies involved will start a program to train around 20,000 first responders in local communities. “In addition, the industry will facilitate the training of 2,000 first responders at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center” in Colorado, AAR pointed out. The facilities offers training that includes full-scale scenarios to help first responders be better prepared for surface transportation emergencies.
The sixth measure introduced for Class I railway companies is the plan to extend access to the AskRail app to all first responders. AskRail is an app that provides real-time information about the contents of every car in a train and the safe handling of those contents in the event of an accident.
AAR said that this can be implemented “by directly targeting emergency communication centers to promote broader access versus relying solely on individual downloads”. The seven companies are also targeting all 50 state fire departments in the country. These initiatives should significantly increase the number of first responders with access to the app. The aim of AAR and the seven companies is to double the current number by the end of 2023.
Improving seals for tank wagons
The AAR is working on establishing a task force to study the deployment of heat-resistant gaskets for tanks transporting flammable liquids. A gasket is a ring-shaped device that seals the gap between two surfaces. This initiative comes after the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) claimed that the aluminum seals currently used to close tank containers might melt when exposed to extreme heat.
The NTSB advisory note concerning the risks of these seals was published in the wake of the accident in East Palestine, Ohio. Melted aluminum inside the protection devices “significantly contributed to improper functioning of the pressure relief devices”, as the US department of transportation pointed out. In other words, the ineffectiveness of the seal is likely what caused the spillage of chemical products from the wagons that derailed in early February.