Push to improve train tanker car safety after recent explosions - KCTV5

Push to improve train tanker car safety after recent explosions

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There's a new push by the National Traffic Safety Board to improve train tanker car safety after several recent massive explosions in North America.

The NTSB will hold hearings April 22 through 23 in Washington, DC to examine the safety issues associated with moving crude oil and ethanol by rail involving DOT-111 tank car. The board will discuss several topics including the car's design, construction, and crash-worthiness.

KCTV5 discovered a recent slide from an NTSB presentation before the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety, that showed concerns over the tank car housings that were not felt to be effective in preventing impact damage.

"While the soaring volumes of crude oil and ethanol traveling by rail has been good for business, there is a corresponding obligation to protect our communities and our environment," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.

Kansas City is the second largest rail hub in the country as hundreds of trains rumble through the metro every single day, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Downtown Lee's Summit sees its fair share of trains as one the last big depots in Eastern Jackson County for passenger trains and rails for many freight trains.

"I really love the trains, it's a really cool part of our community," said Candace Jennings, a business owner.

She has owned The Whistle Stop Coffee and Mercantile for the past six years, right across the street from the town's train depot. Jennings is curious about the cargo, but said she still feels safe.

"I guess it's a little unnerving to know there are things flammable flying past you at 30 miles an hour," she said.

There has been a 400 percent jump in trains carrying potentially explosive cargo in the United States.

The federal agency that oversees the rail road industry reports a 47 percent decrease in derailments in the last decade.

There have been 10 major accidents since 2008 involving flammable materials, including one in 2013 in Quebec, Canada that left 47 people dead.

"The federal government has to say what that better car is supposed to look like," said United States Sen. Roy Blunt.

The Missouri Republican is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee. Blunt says he's been pushing federal regulators for answers as to why it's taking so long for guidelines.

"The question was, 'why is it taking you so long to come up with these new car standards?'" he said. "They don't have a very good answer for that."

After repeated questioning by Congress, federal regulators say they will "fast track" suggestions for possible tank car changes by the start of next year.

The Association of American Railroads issued a video statement urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to require the retrofit or phase out of some of the tank cars.

"While we know there will never be zero accidents, we strongly believe requiring more stringent safety standards for tank cars will reduce the likelihood of accident-related releases," said Ed Hamberger, AAR president and CEO.

KCTV5 discovered there's no government database to search what types of products, including hazardous materials, come through Kansas City. The railroad industry often puts out a weekly update through the Association of American Railroads.

"We know generally what is being shipped and where, but we do not have a specific report of what every train is carrying every day," said Linda Wilson Horn, customer relations coordinator for the Missouri Department of Transportation. "We focus our inspection efforts on the trains and locations that we know tend to carry certain materials for safety."

The Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety told KCTV5 news that federal law does not require railroads to report commodity flow information.

The federal government makes available $28 million a year in grants for local communities to train for emergencies or to conduct research into the types of products that move through their area.

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