The Role of AAR in Rail Safety: How Certification Protects the Industry

At McKenzie Valve & Machining, we make the highest quality tank car valves, fittings, and fabrications. As a key part of the rail industry, we are dedicated to safety and ensuring that all of our products meet appropriate standards.

Team McKenzie
April 24, 2024
The Role of AAR in Rail Safety: How Certification Protects the IndustryThe Role of AAR in Rail Safety: How Certification Protects the Industry
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At McKenzie Valve & Machining, we make the highest quality tank car valves, fittings, and fabrications. As a key part of the rail industry, we are dedicated to safety and ensuring that all of our products meet appropriate standards.

Because of this, we work to meet Association of American Railroads (AAR) certification standards where appropriate. AAR certification is pivotal in ensuring rail safety by providing best practices for quality assurance. A failure in a tank car valve can result in a significant hazmat spill and endanger train workers and nearby communities, so our goal is to meet these standards and provide our customers with fittings they can trust.

Understanding AAR Certification

The Association of American Railroads provides approval of facility quality insurance programs as well as approval of parts and fittings to standards higher than those mandated by the Department of Transportation (DoT).

It is a voluntary program designed to ensure compliance while pushing for best practices that exceed those mandates. The goal is to ensure a high level of safety throughout America's freight rail systems, reducing accidents and reducing the damage done when an accident does happen.

Importance of AAR Certification for Tank Cars

When it comes to tank cars, the AAR has a specific organization, the Tank Car Committee (TCC), which is specifically dedicated to improving the safety of tank cars and establishing industry-wide interchange standards. A huge part of their goal is to fit tank cars with enhanced valves and fittings to ensure safety. For example, the standards ensure that high-capacity relief valves can handle pressure increases from fire, but can also release products faster if needed. The DoT has also delegated the TCC  to handle technical design reviews on tank cars.

The committee has representatives from railroads, shippers, tank car builders, and owners, and their meetings are routinely attended by government officials. The committee helps to develop standards that become regulations a few years later, and forms part of a vital collaboration between stakeholders and the government to ensure safety. By working through voluntary compliance, the TCC improves cooperation between stakeholders, rather than being in an antagonistic role.

The system works; it has contributed to a 75% decrease in tank car-related hazmat accidents since 2000. Almost all rail hazmat shipments reach their destinations safely, and it is major news when one does not. Rail is, by far, the safest way to move hazardous materials. In 2022, trains moved 2.3 million carloads of hazardous chemicals.

This certification means that specific parts that might be fitted to new or refurbished tank cars meet the standards required to keep this remarkable safety record and ensure that millions of tons of hazardous materials reach their end destination with no contamination. Tank cars require particular care because of the risk to people and the environment where a leak could occur.

By approving parts, the AAR ensures that older tank cars are updated to current specifications as much as possible. When a tank car needs to be repaired, all replacement parts need to be both up to spec and compatible with the car and existing fittings. All freight cars are limited to a life of 50 years, and during that time, a tank car will be repaired and maintained many times. The specific rule is that railroads do not have to accept a car older than 50 years. Some cars may not last this long, but this limit is typically the design goal.

A 49-year-old car has to be as safe as a new one! Incidents like the one that occurred in Ohio, near East Palestine, need to be avoided. In this incident, a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spilled hazardous chemicals, which caught fire, contaminating the area, and potentially causing long-term health conditions for some residents.

Tank car safety is, thus, everyone's safety and AAR certification and approval is part of how we ensure that it is maintained and strengthened.

McKenzie Valve's Commitment to AAR Certification

Our goal is to provide the highest quality, and safest valves and fittings for new and repaired tank cars.

First of all, our quality assurance follows best practices. Tank car manufacturers can trust that we will meet, or exceed, their own QA standards. We aim to always maintain AAR certification and to provide parts that are properly tested and durable. We implement proactive quality assurance practices to ensure this, and our goal is to collaborate with tank car manufacturers to ensure uniform standards, as well as with our material vendors and the entire supply chain.

We believe that AAR certification and approval is the best way to consistently meet our quality control standards. We have sought AAR approval for the majority of our products. These include things like our 2" Excess Flow Check Valve, 75 PSIG SRV Low Flow Stainless, and 3 Inch Ball Valve for Hydrogen Peroxide Service.

When you purchase an AAR-approved part from us, you know that they are designed correctly and manufactured precisely. Regardless of what kind of tank car you are building, repairing, or refurbishing, we can provide you with the approved parts you need.

We are also dedicated to safety in general. For example, we produce high-quality vacuum relief valves to maintain pressure balance in tank cars.

We have been producing these parts for over 25 years, therefore we have the experience and knowledge to provide you with the best parts.

For example, to meet AAR standards, our 3/4" Excess Flow Check Valve was originally tested by taking 3 prototype valves, which were hydro-tested at 1.5 x CWP and flow-tested. In production, all valves are shell tested at 80-100 psig, a non-destructive method that helps demonstrate the strength of the valve. The approval also includes our AAR quality control certification.

This shows that we are, and have been for years, thoroughly committed to the most rigorous safety standards, as set by the AAR. We hold an M-1003 certification for quality and an M-1002 certification for testing.

When you buy McKenzie products you get the benefits of choosing AAR-certified products that will help you meet quality and safety standards and protect the industry and community.

The Impact of AAR Certification on the Rail Industry

AAR certification has had a positive impact on the rail industry. By pushing for standards that exceed mere regulatory compliance, and giving operators and manufacturers a voice on best practices, AAR helps operators and manufactures in a variety of areas.

Ensuring Compliance with Safety Standards

AAR's certification program sets stringent safety standards that at least meet, and in many places exceed, regulatory standards. This helps reduce the number of accidents and the damage done if an accident happens.

Safety standards for tank cars reduce the risk of a derailment and, should one happen, help ensure that hazardous materials remain contained and do not spill out into the community to harm people, pets, livestock, or wildlife. This helps maintain the over 99.99% safety record of hazmat deliveries by rail since 2000.

Mitigating Liability Risks

Improving safety standards also helps reduce liability risks for operators and all stakeholders. Using certified parts demonstrates your commitment to safety and compliance. This helps reduce your risk of being found liable, including criminally liable, if there is a spill. It helps protect you from lawsuits from affected individuals and communities.

It can also help keep your liability insurance premiums down both by demonstrating your safety standards to your insurer and reducing the number and amount of claims.

Enhancing Reliability and Performance

Certified parts go through a rigorous testing and evaluation process. This helps ensure that they will perform well and last longer, reducing long-term costs. Enhanced reliability also minimizes downtime by reducing the number and length of times a car has to be removed from service for repairs.

By reducing unplanned downtime, reliable parts also help you maintain operational integrity and keep maintenance on schedule.

Fostering Industry Confidence and Trust

By both reducing accidents and demonstrating a commitment to safety, AAR certification improves trust in the railroad industry. This includes both trust between stakeholders and trust from the general community.

When people see a freight train rattle past, they want the comfort of knowing that industry standards are high, and have been made to keep communities safe. AAR certification helps secure that trust by reducing accidents and protecting the communities.

Future Perspectives and Conclusion

Safety does not stand still. The TCC, and the AAR in general, are always working on enhancing safety standards. They are typically ahead of safety regulations and help manufacturers and operators avoid the scramble to meet a new rule by helping them predict them.

AAR certification also incentivizes manufacturers to innovate and continuously improve. The more operators demand vehicles made with certified parts, the more manufacturers will need to work on improving those standards.

Continued compliance with these standards ensures the safety and reliability of rail transportation, and about tank cars, the safety of the entire community.

McKenzie Valve & Machining meets all AAR standards for quality assurance. We acknowledge and support the role of the AAR in supporting rail industry safety. AAR certification helps manufacturers stay ahead and protects the industry and communities.

All rail operators and stakeholders should prioritize safety and purchase only AAR-certified products from trusted suppliers, such as McKenzie Valve.