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Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation R-86-043
Details
Synopsis: ABOUT 1:33 P.M., C.D.T., ON JUNE 9, 1985, ST. LOUIS SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY COMPANY (COTTON BELT) FREIGHT TRAIN EXTRA 4835 NORTH DERAILED WHILE PASSING OVER A BALLAST-DECK PILE TRESTLE LOCATED ABOUT 3.3 MILES SOUTHWEST OF PINE BLUFF, ARKANSAS. EIGHTEEN OF THE 42 DERAILED CARS WERE LOADED TANK CARS, AND 14 OF THESE CARS CONTAINED REGULATED HAZARDOUS OR TOXIC CHEMICAL COMMODITIES; 4 OTHERS CONTAINTED NON-REGULAT ED FLAMMABLE PETROLEUM AND LIQUID PLASTICS PRODUCTS. FIRE BROKE OUT IN THE WRECKAGE, AND SMOKE AND TOXIC GASES WERE RELEASED INTO THE ATMOSPHERE. TWO TANK CARS WHICH WERE SUBJECTED TO INTENSE THERMAL EXPOSURE EXPLODED BUT DID NOT ROCKET. MORE THAN 2,800 PERSONS WERE EVACUATED FROM WITHIN A 1-MILE RADIUS OF THE DERAILMENT SITE. PROPERTY DAMAGE WAS REPORTED TO BE MORE THAN $4 MILLION.
Recommendation: THE NTSB RECOMMENDS THAT THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS: REQUIRE THAT WHEN IT IS NECESSARY TO REPLACE COUPLERS ON ALL FREIGHT CARS OTHER THAN TANK CARS DURING THE COURSE OF FIELD REPAIR WORK, THE REPLACEMENT COUPLERS BE OF THE BOTTOM-SHELF TYPE.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Closed - Acceptable Alternate Action
Mode: Railroad
Location: Pine Bluff, AR, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: DCA85RM007
Accident Reports: Derailment of St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (Cotton Belt) Freight Train Extra 4835 North and Release of Hazardous Materials
Report #: RAR-86-04
Accident Date: 6/9/1985
Issue Date: 11/18/1986
Date Closed: 6/28/1988
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: Association of American Railroads (Closed - Acceptable Alternate Action)
Keyword(s):

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 6/28/1988
Response: As you are aware, the Safety Board classified this recommendation as "Closed--Acceptable Alternate Action" on April 13, 1988, based on information received by telephone with the AAR staff. Since a subsequent review of the field manual noted this "unintended residual sentence" and since headquarters staff was unaware and had not received any information regarding this error in the field manual, we decided to request a clarification of this matter in writing. We have since been made aware that the revisions in the interchange rules do indeed allow railroads to replace type E couplers with bottom-shelf couplers without penalty and that the sentence which appeared on page 92 has been deleted by Civicular Letter c-7257. The Board appreciates your clarification of this hatter and the status of Safety Recommendation R-86-43 again stands as "Closed--Acceptable Alternate Action."

From: Association of American Railroads
To: NTSB
Date: 5/10/1988
Response: THIS CORRESPONDENCE IS IN REPLY TO YOUR LETTER OF 4/13/88, WHEREIN YOU SERVED NOTICE THAT THE SAFETY BOARD HAD RECLASSIFIED RECOMMENDATION R-86-43 TO A STATUS OF "OPEN- UNACCEPTABLE ACTION" FROM THE PRIOR CATEGORY OF "CLOSED- ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATE ACTION." APPARENTLY, THIS UNEXPECTED REVERSAL OF THE SAFETY BOARD'S POSITION WAS PROMPTED BY A MISTAKEN BELIEF ON THE PART OF YOUR STAFF THAT REVISIONS IN THE INTERCHANGE RULES HAD NOT ACTUALLY BEEN CONSUMATED TO ALLOW RAILROADS TO REPLACE TYPE E COUPLERS WITH BOTTOM-SHELF COUPLERS WITHOUT PENALTY (WHENEVER COUPLER REPLACEMENT IS NECESSARY). LET ME ASSURE YOU, THAT AS OF 1/1/88, SECTION B OF RULE 16 (PAGES 90-91) IN THE FIELD MANUAL OF THE AAR INTERCHANGE RULES CONTAIN THE PROPER ENABLING ENTRIES IN THE "CORRECT REPAIRS" TABLE. SUBSEQUENTLY, AN UNINTENDED RESIDUAL SENTENCE ON PAGE 92 WAS DELETED BY CIRCULAR LETTER C-7257, ISSUED ON JANUARY 29, 1988 AND CONFIRMED IN CHANGE NO. 88-1, DISTRIBUTED THEREAFTER. MOREOVER, PER SUBSCRIP TION INSTRUCTIONS, THE 1988 EDITION OF THE FIELD MANUAL AND ALL CIRCULAR LETTER RELEASES AND CHANGES WERE SENT TO: NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD 1720 PEACHTREE STREET, N.W., SUITE 321 ATLANTA, GA 30309 COPIES OF PERTINENT EXCERPTS OF THE INVOLVED TRANSACTIONS ARE ATTACHED. I TRUST THAT THESE CLARIFICATIONS ARE SUFFICIENT TO ALLEVIATE THE SAFETY BOARD CONCERNS YOU EXPRESSED AND THAT IN THE FUTURE WHEN ADMINISTRATIVE QUESTIONS OF THIS KIND ARISE, THESE CAN BE ROUTINELY RESOLVED BY TIMELY, DIRECT TELEPHONE COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN OUR RESPECTIVE STAFFS.

From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 4/13/1988
Response: In May 1987, the d afety Board, through staff contact with the AAR, was made aware that the results of the special letter ballot of AAR members conducted in January 1987 were positive, which we were told in essence removed the penalty clause from the interchange rules thus allowing railroads to replace type E couplers,with bottom-shelf couplers without penalty. The Board considered this rule revision an acceptable alternative to the requirement outlined in Safety R-86-43, and in a letter dated June 16, 1987, informed the AAR that, consequently, the recommendation was being placed in a "Closed--Acceptable Alternate Action" status.

From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 6/16/1987
Response: The Safety Boar notes that the AAR initiated interchange-oriented proceedings to promote utilization of the bottom-shelf coupler design consistent with benefits. Through staff contact, the Board has been made aware that the results of the special letter ballot of AAR members conducted in January 1987 were positive, which, in essence, removed the penalty clause from the interchange rJles thus allowing railroads to replace type E couplers with bottom-shelf coualers without penalty. The Board considers the rule revisions which now facilitate the substitution of bottom-shelf type couplers for E type couplers ar acceptable alternative to the requirement outlined in Safety Recommendation R-86-43. Consequently, Safety Recommendation R-86-43 has been placed in a "Closed--Acceptable Alternate Action" status.

From: Association of American Railroads
To: NTSB
Date: 4/27/1987
Response: WHILE WE FAIL TO SEE ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN THE BEHAVIOR OF THE TANK CARS INVOLVED IN THE REFERENCED ACCIDENTS AND YOUR RECOMMENDATION REGARDING BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS ON THE ENTIRE GENERAL SERVICE FLEET, THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS HAS EMBARKED ON A SERIES OF INTERCHANGE-ORIENTED PROCEEDINGS TO PROMOTE UTILIZATION OF THE BOTTOM SHELF DESIGN CONSISTENT WITH BENEFITS. BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS HAVE BEEN REQUIRED ON ALL NEW AND REBUILTFREIGHT CARS SINCE 1982. FURTHER THE ASSOCIATION HAS ACTIVATED THE STIPULATED APPROVAL PROCESS TO ALLOW UNRESTRICTED SUBSTITUTION OF BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS FOR STANDARD E COUPLERS WHENEVER COUPLER REPLACEMENT IN NECES SARY. INLINE WITH STANDARD AAR PROCEDURES, A PROPOSAL TO ACHIEVE THIS HAS BEEN CIRCULATED TO INDISTRY FOR PUBLIC COMMENT, FOLLOWING WHICH A SPECIAL LETTER BALLOT OF THE MEMBERS IS PLANNED IN LATE JANUARY 1987. IF ADOPTED, AN ACCELERATED REPLACEMENT WITH BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS CAN BE EXPECTED. MORE SPECIFICALLY, WITH RESPECT TO THE SAFETY BOARD'S RECOMMENDATION, IT IS IMPORTATANT TO STRESS THAT: FROM THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE, THE SAFETY OF THE AAR STANDARD TYPE E COUPLER ON GENERAL FREIGHT CARS IN INTERCHANGE SER VICE IS NOT AT ISSUE. TYPE E COUPLERS HAVE BEEN OPERATING SAFELY FOR MANY YEARS. WHILE THE ADDITION OF A BOTTOM SHELF MAY BE VIEWED AS AN AFFORDABLE OPTION FOR UPGRADE, STANDARD E COUPLERS AS ATTESTED TO BY SERVICE EXPERIENCE, ARE NOT SAFETY THREAT. THE PROPOSED REQUIREMENT WOULD NOT ONLY UP SET MORE RATIONAL PROGRAMS ALREADY UNDERWAY BUT WOULD IMME DIATELY OBSOLETE THE STANDARD E COUPLER, AND UNNECESSARILY RENDER EXISTING STOCKS UNUSABLE. THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES TO THE INDUSTRY WOULD BE ENORMOUS. MOST IMPORTANTLY, SUCH ACTION MANDATING THE SCRAPPING OF THOUSANDS OF PERFECTLY SAFE AND SERVICEABLE COUPLERS IS UNJUSTIFIED. THE SAFETY OF TANK CARS CARRYING HAZARDOUS MATERIALS WILL NOT BE ENHANCED BY IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SAFETY BOARD'S RECOMMENDATION. THE DOUBLE SHELF COUPLERS REQUIRED IN HAZARDOUS MATERIAL TANK CARS, HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO PROVIDE EFFECTIVE PROTECTION TO THE TANK REGARDLESS OF THE TYPE OF COUPLER ON ADJACENT CARS AND THERE IS NO VERTIFIABLE EVIDENCE THAT BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS BEHAVE ANY BETTER THAN STANDARD E COUPLERS WHEN COUPLED TO A TANK CAR WHICH MUST BE EQUIPPED WITH DOUBLE SHELF COUPLERS. BASED ON THE ABOVE, AND IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY COMPELLING SAFETY RELATED JUSTIFICATION FOR REQUIRING AN EXPEDITED PRO GRAM TO RETROFIT THE INTERCHANGE FLEET WITH BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS, THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS RESPECTFULLY DECLINES ADOPTION OF RECOMMENDATION R-86-43 IN FAVOR OF THE RULE REVISION PROCEEDINGS NOW BEING PROGRESSED TO FACILITATE THE SUBSTITUTION OF BOTTOM SHELF TYPE COUPLERS FOR E COUP LERS WHILE PROHIBITING THE SUBSTITUTION OF STANDARD E TYPE COUPLERS FOR BOTTOM SHELF COUPLERS.

From: NTSB
To: Association of American Railroads
Date: 4/24/1987
Response: On November 18, 1986, the National Transportation Safety Board issued Safety Recommendation R-86-43 to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) as a result of the Board's investigation of the derailment of St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company freight train Extra 4835 North and the subsequent release o,f hazardous materials near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on June 9, 1985. The Safety Board is vitally interested in any actions taken as a result of its Safety Recomme dations. Our records, however, show that we have not received any indication of action taken by the AAR regarding the recommended action. We would appreciate being informed as to what efforts are being made to implement this recommendation. The Safety Board's letter including this recommendation is enclosed for your information. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. We look forward to hearing from you in the near future.