Rail Car Company Urges DOT to Finalize New Safety Rules


One of the companies that builds the type of rail tank car involved in Monday’s train derailment in Fayette County is urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to finalize new rules for modernizing those cars.

The Greenbrier Companies based in Lake Oswego, Oregon is one of five manufacturers in North America that produce freight-rail tank cars used for transporting Class I hazardous material such as the Bakken crude oil that spilled in Fayette County. The company also retrofits older tank cars to make them safer.

Their work comes at a point when the federal-level Department of Transportation is developing regulations for phasing out older tank cars and setting increased safety standards for new ones.

Greg Saxton, Greenbrier’s chief engineer of manufacturing operations, says the new regulations are under review by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, or OMB. The deadline to finalize those rules was recently pushed back. Saxton says a change in regulations is long overdue and he has a message for the DOT:

“Get on with it. You know this rule was supposed to be out the first of this year. Then around the first of the year, they says we’re going to get it out on May 12. Well, this has been going on a lot longer than a couple years, as I say.”

He says the National Transportation Safety Board recognized there were problems with the older generation of rail tank cars more than 20 years ago.“I don’t know how this goes on forever, but we want it to stop.”

Greenbrier spokesman Jack Isselmann says the OMB’s job is to balance the cost of the new regulations with the benefits. He says that while the accidents in the U.S. have produced stunning pictures and video, they have caused relatively little damage in terms of loss of life and property. As a result, the potential costs associated with the regulations tend to be underestimated.

“The way that gets played out in a regulatory impact analysis is you’re going to make these safety improvements, but questions get raised about the benefit because we just haven’t seen accidents creating, you know, human health issues at the level that could happen or certainly at the level that happened at Quebec.”

He was referring to a rail disaster in Lac-Megantic Canada that killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings.

Isselmann says the public’s perception of rail safety is also an important factor in measuring the benefits of new regulations, but is overlooked in the process.

“It’s really incumbent upon all of us who work in the rail industry to reassure the public and the role of public confidence is critical here. That doesn’t get measured in a regulatory impact analysis.” 

Isselmann says Greenbrier is committed to moving rail tank car safety forward. The company is building a new tank car that it says exceeds the current safety standards set by the DOT. The company calls it the Tank Car of the Future. It has a thicker shell, improved valves and heat shields that could mitigate some of the damage caused the derailments involving hazardous material.