The Federal Railroad Admisistration yesterday ordered that all railroads to remove the controversial high-carbon wheels involved in recent derailments from all tank cars carrying hazardous materials by March 31.
The FRA also ordered the wheels removed from all other rail cars by the end of the year, and from any car on the same train a s hazardous materials by June 30.
The order is expected to force the railroads to replace about 100,000 of the wheels, called the Abex one percent carbon wheel, with newer three fourths percent carbon wheels. Railroad cars have eight wheels.
According to Ray James, acting safety head of the FRA, most of the wheels are original equipment, and thus easily tradeable because of computer records kept by the American Assocaition of Railroads.
James said that the FRA found that "the problems with this wheel are abnormally great." He said that one railroad, Seaboard Coast Lines, found that even though only 10 percent of its wheels were the Abex one percent carbons, they were responsible for 50 percent of the line's wheel failures.
"It's the same with every line that uses them," James said, "but Seaboard had the best data."
The wheels in qustion reportedly caused the recent fatal derailment and explosion at Waverly, Tenn.
The FRA acted two weeks after the National Transport Safety Board urged it to use emergency powers to recall the wheels.
Until now, the AAR had ordered that any car going into the shop for any work to have any of the high carbon wheels replaced automatically but, under that procedure, it would have taken years to get all 100,000 wheels off the rails.
The wheels, which weremanufactured by the South Wheel Co. between May 7, 1958, and Dec. 31, 1969, were found to break up at extreme heat levels.