The huge railroad tank cars used to carry dangerous meterials are not completely safe because "the rail industry is in continued and wholesale violation of the (federal safety ) law and regulations," according to Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla).
Chiles noted that 98 percent of the approximately 18,000 cars involved are owned not by railroads, but by oil and chemical companies.
In his opening remarks before the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee investigating safety, Chiles said that the rail industry essentially supervises itself, "even though the General Accounting Office and the Office of Technology Assessment studies have shown that the industry is in continued and wholesale violation of the law and regulations."
"We have considerable evidence that the industry and the regulatory bodies knew a decade ago what was wrong, what the dangers were, and how to go about fixing them," said Chiles, who is chairing the hearings.
Sen. Jim Sasser, (D-Tenn.) echoed Chiles' concern at the hearing. "People are dying and people who live near the railroad tracks are living in justifiable fear," he said.
"Tank cars can be made safe," he said. "The technology has been in existence. Yet, I understand that we will be told this morning that only 25 out of 18,000 (tank cars involved) meet safety standards finally established in Septenber, 1977."
National Transportation Safety Board member Philip Hogue told the subcommittee that despite the fact that the NTSB began pushing for certain safety measures for hazardous material cars 8 years ago, little has been done.
He pointed out athat only a handful of the 18,000 cars involved have been fitted with safety shelf couplers and head shields-at a cost if about $1,650 per car. "The safety board is not satisfied with the speed or the sense of urgency with which the recommended actions are being pursued either by those in the rail industry who are responsible for the equipment or those in government who regulate rail operations," Hogue said.
He agreed with the two senators' contentions that the oil and chemical companies involved blocked an earlier attempt by the Federal Rail Administration to ban the jumbo tank car in question. Costing about $40,000 each, the cars are about twice as heave as their predecessors.
Hogue further testified that although the present plan calls for all of the cars to be fitted with the safety equipment by 1984, a sustained effort now complete that job by this Christmas.
"Give this program the urgent priority required and we think it could be done," he said.