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U.S. rail group: Let's go further on safety

WASHINGTON - It's only been a few weeks since Canadian policy-makers announced safety changes to rail cars but elements within the industry already want to go further.

An industry association in the U.S. released a letter Wednesday asking that all new oil-carrying train cars be equipped with three elements: a thicker, puncture-proof metal shell; taller shields on each end; and thermal insulation.

That request was in a letter sent to the U.S. transportation secretary from the Railway Supply Institute, the main group representing companies that build freight trains and supply railways.

Organization president Thomas Simpson said its previous policy was to equip each new car with some of those changes, but it now wants all three key changes made to every new car.

"That is a departure from where we were in December," Simpson said in an interview, following the release of a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

He said the adjustments could cost his members but would be good for the industry in the long run, amid concerns about safety given the skyrocketing use of rail to transport oil.

Just last month, Canada's Transport minister, Lisa Raitt, promised the government would formalize standards for new tank-car construction that were adopted by the industry in October 2011.

Regulators in both countries are also consulting with industry groups about imposing stricter train-safety standards, in the wake of several accidents — including the disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., in which 47 people died and the town's core was razed in a fiery explosion.

In its letter to Foxx, the RSI notes that it wasn't present at a Jan. 16 meeting where the cabinet secretary discussed policy changes with the Association of American Railroads, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association.

But it said its views should be part of any policy re-think.

One major Canadian railway, which belongs to the Association of American Railroads, welcomed RSI's contribution to the debate over the crucial safety issues raised by the tragedy in Lac-Megantic.

"CN welcomes the views of all stakeholders on this important issue, including those of the Railway Supply Institute," said Mark Hallman, a spokesman for Canadian National Railway (TSE:CNR).

"In the end, however, it’s the responsibility of transportation regulators in the United States and Canada to complete their consultations and to take decisive measures to improve tank car safety as quickly as possible."

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