US National transport safety body wants to improve rail too

While a lot of our focus here at Telematics is on cars, car safety and new fangled technologies that bring it all together, the US National Transportation Safety Board has announced that one of its biggest “most wanted,” improvements for the new year is for an upgrade for train-car safety, specifically those used for transporting crude oil over the rail network.

This is the first time that the transport authority has included any mentions of rail-cars in its annual report since 1991. However, it’s understandable that it would want some of the great automated safety improvements we’ve seen implemented in cars, could also be applied to trains – especially as we head towards automated rail travel. For example, one of the most requested technologies for all trains was collision detection which would apply the brakes if two trains are heading towards one another at speed.

The NTSB’s big ask though, is that it wants tanker rail cars to be more secure and protected from outside influence. At the moment, the most commonly used tanker rail-car, the DOT-111, has been noted for its weakness when it comes to punctures and impact damage. Several cases have been found where a derailed tanker carriage has been damaged enough to leak flammable contents into the surrounding area. It’s also been noted that certain protective valves can be opened unintentionally during accidents. Some instances have even led to the death of locals, who ended up being caught in fire started by damaged cars carrying flammable materials.

The Lac-Mégantic crash of 2013 involved 72 DOT-111 tanker cars

The Lac-Mégantic crash of 2013 involved 72 DOT-111 tanker cars

This is something that the NTSB wants to see stop, but unfortunately it’s missed the 15th January deadline to propose the changes that would be needed. That means it will miss out on the $1.1 trillion that is being invested by Congress in the country’s transport industry. Congress has since expressed concern that such changes would not be included in the spending, pointing out that many carriages needed replacement to improve safety on and off the tracks.

However, in the NTSB’s defence, it has mentioned car safety before – though didn’t issue new safety guidelines. Back in the 90’s, when the car design was relatively new, but still featured the same problems, the NTSB raised concerns over how easy it was to puncture during incidents at high speeds.

Industry has taken a small stand on the problem however, with the American Petroleum Institute announcing that over the next five years, it would phase out the usage of DOT-111 carriages. This was backed up by the Association of American Railroads, which said it too wants to see the tank cars changed and a new standard implemented for tanker safety on railways.

Some however want to see the turnaround even quicker than that. Greenbrier Cos., which designs and manufactures railcars has said it wants to see it done in two years. “If you set a ten year deadline, it will take ten years,” said senior VP at the firm, Greg Saxton.

However long it takes to get the new tankers in place however, the positive collision detection system is going to take even longer. It’s not expected to be fully implemented in US trains until 2020.

[Thanks Bradenton]

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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