Well, it happened again. A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train carrying crude oil derailed on Wednesday in North Dakota and caught fire. No one was injured, but the small town of Heimdal was evacuated. This is the ninth fiery oil train derailment in North America since 2013.
The amount of crude oil shipped by rail in the United States has risen dramatically over the past five years. According to the Energy Information Administration, the volume increased more than 50-fold, from 630,000 barrels in January 2010 to over 33.7 million barrels in January 2015.
In other words, more than a million barrels now move via trains across the United States every day!
And that means the likelihood of an accident is higher, too. Accordingly, on May 1, U.S. regulators put new oil-by-rail safety rules into place.
New Cars Coming Down the Track
The new regulations will soon require a host of changes to make tank cars used to haul oil and other flammable liquids sturdier.
Specific recommendations include things like thicker container walls and stronger valves.
The regulations also detailed required upgrades for approximately 154,500 tank cars that are being used to transport these fluids.
The very old DOT-111 railcars must be retrofitted or replaced by January 2018. The somewhat newer CPC-1232 railcars must be upgraded or replaced by April 2020. A full transition to the newest and safest railcars must occur by May 2025.
In addition, trains are required to be equipped with new brake systems in the next several years. Otherwise they’ll be restricted to traveling no more than 30 miles an hour. Deadlines for the brake changes are 2021 for carrying oil, and 2023 for carrying flammable liquids.
Trains with more than 35 cars filled with flammable fluids will also be required to have a second locomotive to help with braking.
The new braking systems need to be a specific type, too. Electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes provide greater flexibility in terms of application compared to standard brakes. These types of brakes are believed to reduce stopping distances by 40% to 60%.
Full Steam Ahead for Wabtec
Many railcar companies will be working hard to make these changes over the next few years so they can remain competitive when the new regulations take effect.
But one company in particular is going to benefit from the new brake regulations.
You see, the marketplace for ECP is basically a duopoly. The first player in the United States is New York Air Brake, a subsidiary of Germany’s Knorr-Bremse AG. The second company in the sector is very familiar those of us in the Pittsburgh area: Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies (WAB), also known as Wabtec.
Even before the new regulation announcement, Wabtec was doing well. Its CEO Raymond Betler said in February, “We are anticipating record results… in 2015.”
Now, he must feel like a kid with a sweet tooth in a candy store.
Over 125,000 railcars will need to be fitted with ECP brakes. The estimated cost of adding these brakes is between $8,000 and $10,000 per car. That’s over a billion dollars!
And the cost to retrofit older locomotives is even more expensive, with estimates up to $30,000 each.
And Wabtec is sharing this huge market with only one other company!
And, brakes only account for about a quarter of Westinghouse Air Brake’s business, too, despite its name. That section of its business will probably grow as the regulation deadline grows, but the company will still be preoccupied by the cast array of locomotive products it provides.
Bottom line: With more and more safety rules being imposed on the rail industry, Wabtec looks to be riding the rails to profits for its shareholders.
And the chase continues,