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Roundtable Discussion : A Dialogue on What's Next in Rail Tank Car Safety - Opening Statement
Robert L. Sumwalt
NTSB Conference Center

​Good morning. Welcome to the board room of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Robert Sumwalt and as a Member of the NTSB, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this roundtable on rail tank car safety.

A few years ago, North America began to produce enormous quantities of ethanol, and crude oil production skyrocketed. The ethanol needed to be transported to and from diverse locations across the continent. Crude oil had to be moved from new points of origin to distant refineries -- along routes where a pipeline infrastructure did not exist. The railroads stepped into the resulting transportation gap, recently and rapidly transforming themselves into rolling pipelines. 

Thousands of DOT-111 general purpose tank cars were pressed into service to meet industry demand to transport these flammable liquids. However, major train derailments involving DOT-111 tank cars have demonstrated that this tank car is prone to catastrophic breach during a derailment. The transportation gap was solved, but a safety gap emerged.

Naturally, with the exponential growth in shipping flammable liquids, there comes a corresponding increase in risks.

To mitigate these risks we need a holistic approach. We need to keep trains on the tracks. If a derailment occurs, we need to contain the liquid in the tank car. Finally, we need an adequate emergency response if there is a derailment and spill.

While each of these elements is critical to improving tank car safety, today’s roundtable will only focus on the second – keeping the flammable liquid from spilling by using more crashworthy tank cars.

The reason we are focusing on tank car safety today is because of developments in the past year. Last May, the DOT formulated sweeping changes for carriage of flammable liquids by rail. While the DOT rule addressed several NTSB recommendations, gaps remained. Congress closed most of those gaps last December when they passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act – the FAST Act. The bottom line is that the DOT rule and the FAST Act call for a phase-out of DOT-111 tank cars, including the CPC 1232 cars (a slightly improved version of a DOT-111), when transporting flammable liquids. They must be replaced with a newly designed, more robust tank car -- the DOT-117. The  phase-in deadline for replacing the less-robust tank cars extends more than 13 years - from 2018 to 2025 for crude oil and ethanol, and 2029 for all other Class 3 flammable materials.

Today we plan to discuss the industry’s progress toward meeting those deadlines.

In the past decade, there have been 28 significant accidents in the U.S. and Canada involving flammable liquids transported by rail, in which nearly 5 million gallons of crude oil and ethanol have spilled. In each of these accidents, legacy DOT-111 or CPC-1232 tank cars were used to transport these flammable liquids.

Included in these figures is the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which, in 2013, claimed 47 lives and leveled the town center. We appreciate the opportunity to have assisted the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) of Canada with their investigation of this tragedy. Following that accident, the TSB and NTSB issued several coordinated safety recommendations to mitigate the effects of such disasters.

This is a problem that will not get better until these general purpose tank cars are replaced or retrofitted to the new standards.

One goal of this roundtable is to create a sense of urgency to complete this tank car replacement or retrofit as soon as possible. The government-mandated dates are deadlines, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait for those deadlines to complete these vital safety enhancements.

Quite honestly, we face an unacceptable risk until this effort is completed.

We all know the devil’s in the details. So, today we have gathered many of the key players in the industry. We want to know what those details are, and we want everyone at the table to share their perspectives and challenges, and listen to the viewpoints of others.

That’s really the purpose of this roundtable - to facilitate a conversation about issues that are critical to ensuring timely implementation of new safety standards for the existing tank car fleet and getting the legacy tank cars out of flammable liquids service as soon as possible.

We’ve structured today’s gathering as a roundtable to encourage a true flow of information and ideas among all the invited participants -- the oil and ethanol shippers, tank car manufacturers and retrofitters, fleet owners, the railroads, the research community, and regulators.

Regardless of your affiliation, I know that everybody in this room is a safety advocate and a safety expert. We at the NTSB have worked with many of you in accident investigations and we are grateful for your expertise. Today we are calling upon your expertise again.

We will have five sessions today. I’ll facilitate the conversation – and that’s exactly what I’d like for it to be – a conversation. I’ll toss out questions, and hope you will chime in with your thoughts. Let’s have an open, candid dialogue. 

In addition to questions that we have developed here at the NTSB, we’ll take questions from the audience – those assembled here in the board room, and those watching via webcast. We’ll pass out index cards for those of you in the board room. For those watching online, you may submit questions to 

Remember, please keep your questions on the topic of tank cars, not other aspects of rail safety or crude oil production.

I know we all share a common goal – safer transport of flammable liquids by rail. We are hoping that by understanding the hurdles to tank car replacement and retrofit, we can better and more quickly achieve that goal.

I’ll now ask Rachael Gunaratnam to summarize important safety information, go through a few housekeeping items, and begin the discussion.