Rail Oil Tanker Safety ‘Compromised’

Friday, April 25, 2014 @ 10:04 AM gHale

Accidents involving trains carrying crude oil in Canada and the United States shows “safety has been compromised,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman said.

The amount of crude oil transported on railroads has more than quadrupled since 2005, and some of it is especially volatile, said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.

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That extra volatility increases the likelihood of a fire in a derailment, Hersman said. The transport of ethanol, the most frequently shipped hazardous material in the railway system, has also boomed, she said.

“With so much flammable liquid carried by rail, it is incumbent upon the rail industry, shippers, and regulators to ensure that these hazardous materials are being moved safely,” Hersman said. She spoke in Washington D.C. this week at the opening of a two-day forum on improving the safety of crude oil and ethanol shipments.

The NTSB believes that older models of the type of tank car used to transport crude oil and ethanol, known as the DOT-111, are not safe to carry hazardous liquids.

Hersman cited the loss of lives and the destruction that occurred after fiery derailments like the one July 6, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and on June 19, 2009 in Cherry Valley, IL, near Rockford.

In the Cherry Valley incident, 15 DOT-111s carrying ethanol derailed. The leaking fuel ignited, causing a massive fireball. One woman suffered fatal burns and 600 homes within a half-mile radius had to evacuate.

The NTSB said in a report on that derailment that the design of the older DOT-111 cars made them “susceptible to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous material.”

Testifying Tuesday at the NTSB forum were representatives from the petroleum and rail industries, who discussed tank car design, crash worthiness, and railroad operations. Also testifying were researchers who reviewed safety systems and ways to reduce risks.

The NTSB recommended in 2009 that all new and existing tank cars in crude oil and ethanol service come equipped with additional safety design features, including enhanced puncture resistance systems, top fittings protection and bottom outlet valves that remain closed during accidents.

Two federal agencies, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration, are developing a proposed rule to update the federal design standards for DOT-111 tank cars.

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