– The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers President Charles T.
Drevna sent the following letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in
response to the Department’s failure to adequately address track integrity as a
cause of train derailments:
March 16, 2015
Dear Secretary Foxx,
You have stated in the past that the Department
of Transportation (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 of 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 1,100 Class 1 derailments in 2014, 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 predominately 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 sixty
percent 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 that 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 $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
finalized 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 derailments 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.
Charles T. Drevna