RFA president makes appearance at rail safety forum

By Chris Hanson | April 23, 2014

Renewable Fuel Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen gave a presentation at a rail safety forum hosted by the National Transportation Safety Board on April 23.

The U.S. Department of Transportation 111A (DOT-111) railcar was highlighted as a workhorse that created a virtual pipeline that allows the ethanol industry to move the fuel anywhere in the U.S., said Dinneen. “The U.S. government built the pipeline system to accommodate the oil industry so it flows from the Gulf Coast – North, West and East – to the population centers. Ours, as an industry, is centered largely in the Midwest. The pipeline system doesn’t really accommodate our marketplace, so we’ve relied heavily on the rails to move product and have done so for some 30 years.”

Over the past few years, the ethanol industry has shipped more than 320,000 car loads each year, Dinneen stated. Approximately 70 percent of the ethanol that moves throughout the country is done by rail, he added. “We got 29,000 railcars in service and these were purchased in anticipation of being able to use those cars for 40 to 50 years.”

Ethanol’s rail safety record was also highlighted during the presentation. Of the more than 2 million total shipments on ethanol rails in the past eight years, there have been only 226 cars that have derailed, 91 of which actually released product.

“We want to be better, we are constantly trying to be better,” Dinneen said. “But clearly, the single, most important issue is operations.” Factors, such as poor communication, track integrity, switch failures and maintenance problems, have led to rail incidents, he added.

On the topic of rail car design and models, the ethanol industry is supportive of 1232 car moving forward, Dinneen said. “The RFA supports the new tank car construction of the 1232 rail car, but we do believe that calls for modification to the existing legacy fleet does not make sense,” he added. “The 29,000 cars that we have would estimate to cost more than $3 billion.”

“We cannot stress enough, that unless you are addressing the root cause of accidents, railcar design will not be terribly effective,” Dinneen said. Instead the focus should be more on improving maintenance protocols, reducing the chance for human error and enhancing communication systems, he added.