NEW CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Fuel-hauling tank cars need safety upgrades to keep fires from spreading after train derailments, and the public can’t wait another decade for the improvements as the industry suggests, U.S. safety officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued four urgent recommendations Monday after a spate of fiery accidents revealed shortcomings in voluntary industry standards for cars hauling oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids.

The agency said the cars should be replaced or retrofitted with protective systems better able to withstand fire than the bare steel construction now widely in use. That could include ceramic “thermal blankets” that surround the tank and shield it from intense heat should a nearby car catch fire, the NTSB said.

The recommendations come as the Department of Transportation considers new rules to bolster tank car safety. Oil and ethanol train crashes have stirred widespread worry in the U.S. and Canada after dozens of significant derailments.

Oil tankers pass through Rockland and County Executive Ed Day points to the derailment and explosion in Quebec two years ago that killed 47 people.

“Just feel like it, in my hometown of New City and here in Rockland, it would be like the entirety of the center of New City being obliterated– two blocks on either side of Main Street, four from the court house, down to St. Augustus church,” he told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.

A rule to bolster tank car standards is under final review by the White House and “will significantly improve the safety of all trains carrying flammable liquids,” Transportation spokeswoman Susan Lagana said Tuesday. The agency was preparing additional actions while the rule is pending, she said, without offering further details.

The industry voluntarily adopted rules in 2011 requiring sturdier tank cars for hauling flammable liquids. But cars built to the new standard split open in at least four accidents during the past year, including oil trains that derailed and burned in West Virginia in February and Illinois last month.

Ceramic blankets around the tanks could help stop those fires from spreading between cars, NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart told The Associated Press. They already are used for tank cars transporting liquefied petroleum gas, the agency says.

The board called for relief valves on tank cars to prevent pressure from building inside them as they heat up from nearby fires, which can cause the cars to explode.

“The longer we wait, the more we expose the public to the problems of these cars that aren’t especially robust,” Hart said.

Government analysts have predicted that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

If the Transportation Department decides it would take too long to upgrade the existing fleet with new protective features, it should consider significant speed restrictions on trains in the interim, the NTSB said in its recommendations.

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