WITH ANY LUCK, the tank truck industry will barely notice when the Department of Transportation transfers responsibility for developing new cargo tank requirements to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. That's the best possible scenario.

Still, this is a fundamental change in the way the DOT will regulate cargo tank design, construction, and repair in the future. The impact of this change cannot be understated, and it probably will be felt worldwide.

In a nutshell, the bureaucrats at DOT and what used to be the Research and Special Programs Administration decided back in the late 1990s that they could no longer do an adequate job of updating the cargo tank rules. ASME was asked to take over the responsibility. Section XII of the ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code was born out of the mandate from DOT.

When completed, Section XII will contain the rules for construction and continued service of pressure vessels and DOT-code cargo tanks used to transport dangerous goods via highway, rail, air, and water. “Construction” is an all-inclusive term comprising materials, design, fabrication, examination, inspection, testing, certification, and over-pressure protection. “Continued service” refers to inspection, testing, repair, alteration, and recertification of cargo tanks that are in operation. Section XII will include modal appendices with requirements for vessels used in specific transport modes and service applications. Rules pertaining to a new T-Code symbol and stamp will be described in Section XII.

It's a complex program, and it has generated plenty of controversy along the way. However, it would appear that ASME and DOT have taken steps to remove most of the points of contention.

For example, ASME initially wanted a requirement for an authorized inspector to sign off on new tank construction and all vessel repair work. These third-party inspectors could have added as much as $500 to every new tank and every vessel repair no matter how extensive.

ASME also generated a strong negative response from Europe over parts of Section XII that would apply to international transport of dangerous goods. And this was at a time when the United States — in theory, at least — had friendly relations with France, Germany, and other European Union countries.

European representatives attacked ASME's proposal on the grounds that a professional society, such as ASME, has no regulatory jurisdiction in the European Union. International standards already are coordinated through the United Nations.

So where do we stand today? An update on how far Section XII has progressed was presented during the National Tank Truck Carriers annual Cargo Tank Maintenance Seminar last October in Chicago, Illinois.

The section format is done, and the main code for Section XII is written. However, only one modal appendix has been completed, and that is for cryogenic portable tanks that can be used in both domestic and international operations.

The cargo tank section is still under development and probably won't be submitted for ASME approval until late 2005. The earliest it would be published in the ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code would be the 2006 addendum.

A new T-code will be adopted in the cargo tank section, replacing the current DOT400 series. The T-code is very similar to the ISO tank container designation developed through the United Nations. However, DOT officials stress that Section XII is not a backdoor means of sneaking in international standards.

Inspections will be required for new construction and repairs to code tanks just as they are under the current regulations. However, authorized inspectors will be needed only for ASME pressure vessels, which is the current requirement. The code will allow the continued use of registered inspectors for other types of code tanks. There's even a third category of inspector for other countries.

Some tank design factors are noticeably absent from Section XII at this time. Accident protection on cargo tanks won't be addressed by the rule. Cargo tank use won't be covered.

DOT officials emphasize that they remain committed to transparency between the new Section XII rules and the cargo tank regulations currently in place. Additionally, adoption of Section XII is supposed to be a zero-cost process.

Both objectives are probably somewhat altruistic. Section XII will change the way cargo tanks are built and repaired. Some of the changes will be good for the industry. However, the changes will not be zero-cost. Tank builders and repair shops will have to qualify under the new rules, and they will have to purchase new ASME code manuals and keep them up to date.

DOT still has not described exactly how it will incorporate the Section XII rules into the Code of Federal Regulations. We still don't have a precise idea of when the rules will be adopted. We probably won't see a DOT final rule until 2008, and the rules wouldn't be mandatory until around 2011.

That's not a lot of time, considering the amount of work to be done. Hopefully, the end result will be worth the effort.