NTSB Demands Rail Car Modernization, Alcoa’s ‘Multi-Materials’ Strategy Explained

Today, in MetalCrawler: a federal regulator urged replacement of rail tank cars, but just wants new tank cars and doesn’t want to replace them with pipelines. Alcoa, Inc., insists it’s now a “multi-materials” company and not just an aluminum producer, and construction associations have petitioned the federal government for guaranteed costs for change orders on federal projects.

NTSB Wants New Rail Cars

Federal officials Monday called for the urgent replacement of railroad tank cars to make them more fire-resistant in the event of an incident like last month’s fiery derailment near Galena, Ill., of a train hauling crude oil.

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The current rail car fleet should be aggressively replaced or retrofitted with better protection against heat from fires and by increasing the capacity of pressure relief devices, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended.

“We can’t wait a decade for safer rail cars,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement. “Crude oil rail traffic is increasing exponentially. … The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements, otherwise, we continue to put our communities at risk.”

The New Alcoa

Alcoa is at the forefront of two trends changing the metals industry, the Wall Street Journal reports, both of which will be on display Wednesday, when the company is expected to report earnings of 25 cents a share, up from nine cents a year earlier. In January, it reported its best full year results since 2008.

The first trend: an eastward shift in raw production, driven by economic growth in Asia and changes in relative costs.

The second: a turn by metals companies toward making parts for fast-growing markets like aerospace and automotive, which are more profitable than making raw metal.

Alcoa now produces predominantly in places such as Iceland and Saudi Arabia, and has scaled back in Tennessee and upstate New York. The US might have cheaper energy these days, thanks for the natural-gas boom, but it also has too many other industries—and people.

Construction Associations Want Cost Certainty

Nine associations representing construction contractors, subcontractors, and design professionals petitioned the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) to alter how the office handles change orders.

The groups want the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) amended to “make explicit” that before ordering a change to a construction contract, the contracting officer must assure that funds are available to pay for additional work being ordered.

“Our members are facing increasing numbers of instances in which a Contracting Officer will direct a change in the scope of work on a construction project, lacking funds available to pay for the increased costs being imposed upon the contractor,” the associations wrote in a March 18 letter to OFCPP Administrator Anne Rung.

The groups signing the letter included the Design-Build Institute of America, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Subcontractors Association, the Associated General Contractors of America, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the National Association of Surety Bond Producers, the National Electrical Contractors Association, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association and The Surety & Fidelity Association of America.

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