Repost from Financial Times
Union Pacific chief threatens action on oil train brake rulesRobert Wright in New York, May 31, 2015 4:55 pm
The chief executive of Union Pacific, the US’s largest rail network, has vowed legal action over a provision of new rules for oil trains that he says would cost billions of dollars and provide little benefit.
The pledge from Lance Fritz threatens further delay to rules that have already been years in preparation.
The Federal Railroad Administration and Canadian regulators jointly announced the rules less than a month ago to improve the safety of oil movements by rail, which have risen sharply following the surge in US oil and gas production in recent years.
The surge — from only about 1m tonnes of traffic in 2007 to roughly 40m in 2013, the last year for which full data are available — has exposed the shortcomings of existing safety rules for tank cars, with several trains exploding following derailments.
While Mr Fritz said that most of the new provisions were “great regulation”, he criticised provisions demanding that railways start controlling tank cars’ brakes via an electric signal either transmitted wirelessly from the lead locomotive or via electrical wires running along the train.
The new arrangement, known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, is intended to speed up the transmission of the braking command compared with current methods, which rely on pressure changes in a pipe running along the train. That should reduce the number of cars that derail in a crash.
Mr Fritz said, however, that virtually the same improvements could be gained by spacing locomotives out along a train, as Union Pacific frequently does, and the extra benefits of ECP did not justify the costs. The new equipment would cost about $75,000 for each of UP’s 6,500 locomotives, while there would also be substantial costs for fitting out tank cars, nearly all owned by oil shippers or leasing companies.
“The juice isn’t worth the press,” Mr Fritz said. “We think that’s very ill-considered. We provided that feedback and we will continue to provide that feedback.”
The industry could appeal against the rule both through administrative channels and in the courts, Mr Fritz said. “We as an industry are taking that path,” he added.
Railways have been pressing for improvements in tank car design to avoid a repetition of disasters like the Lac-Mégantic explosion in Canada in 2013, in which 47 people died when a poorly secured oil train broke lose, derailed and exploded in the centre of a small town.
Operators are barred from refusing to carry cargo that meets the minimum regulatory requirements but have been concerned that under existing regulations cars were excessively vulnerable in an explosion.
Mr Fritz also criticised the new rules’ standards for thermal protection for cars, meant to prevent their exploding in a fire, saying they were not strict enough.
The Federal Railroad Administration declined to comment publicly on Mr Fritz’s criticisms but looks determined to press ahead with the mandate for ECP brakes.
UP, which has a larger track network than any other US railway, has been a significant beneficiary of the surge in oil movements. Mr Fritz said he expected a strong continuing role for rail in transporting US-produced crude oil.
The sharp fall in the oil price in recent months has shifted traffic away from the routes that UP serves, however, pushing down crude oil movements on its network by 38 per cent in the first quarter compared with last year.