Category Archives: DOT-111A

RAIL SAFETY REPORT CARD: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Safety Report Card: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

By Justin Mikulka • Monday, May 9, 2016 – 15:12

A year ago, when Federal regulators announced new rules for “high hazard” trains moving crude oil and ethanol, the oil industry protested that the rules were too strict. The main point of contention made by the American Petroleum Institute (APIwas that the requirement to retrofit the unsafe DOT-111 and DOT-1232 tank cars within ten years did not allow enough time to get the job done.

Meanwhile, according to information recently provided to DeSmog by the Association of American Railroads, only 225 of the tank cars have been retrofitted in the past year. So, the API may have been onto something because at that rate it will take roughly 500 years to retrofit the entire fleet of DOT-111s and CPC-1232s based on government and industry estimates of fleet size of approximately 110,000.

As DeSmog reported earlier this year, the FAST Act transportation bill that passed in 2015 required that all DOT-111s that have not been retrofitted be retired from crude oil service by 2018. But the bill included the option that “The Secretary may extend the deadlines…if the Secretary determines that insufficient retrofitting shop capacity will prevent the phase-out of tank cars.”

However, prior to the new rule being finalized, Greg Saxton — a representative of leading tank car manufacturer Greenbrier — testified in Congress that there was sufficient shop capacity to meet the timeline noting that,“This is an aggressive timeline, we believe it is achievable.”

Saxton also made the assertion that the lack of new regulations was the issue that was delaying the safety retrofits.

The only thing holding the industry back is the government’s inaction on proposed new tank car design standards and a deadline for having an upgraded rail tank car fleet.”

Now a year after the new rule was announced, with a mere 225 cars undergoing the safety upgrades, it would appear that was not the only thing holding back the industry.

DeSmog reached out to the Railway Supply Institute, leading oil-by-rail carrier BNSF, and Greenbrier to inquire about the lack of retrofits to date and asked if shop capacity was an issue, but did not receive any response. The Association of American Railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration were unable to provide information on shop capacity.

Unlike Safety, Public Relations On Schedule

Despite not actually making any significant safety improvements to the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars — tank cars called an “unacceptable public risk” by a member of the National Transportation Safety Board — the public relations effort to push the idea that the issue has been addressed appears to be successful.

In an article published in Chicago Magazine in April 2016, the risks of oil-by-rail were covered in detail. However, that article included the following statement, “Those first-generation tank cars, called DOT-111s, have almost all been subjected to new protections, including having their shells reinforced with steel a sixteenth of an inch thicker than used in earlier models.”

But 225 tanker cars clearly does not qualify as “almost all” of the DOT-111 oil tank car fleet.

An article published shortly after the FAST Act was signed ran with the headline, “New Highway Bill Includes Tough Rules for Oil Trains.” Again, this would seem like overstating the reality of what the bill included.

As DeSmog has noted before, the oil and rail industries are very good at public relations when it concerns this topic. However, as when BNSF said they were buying 5,000 new tank cars that would exceed all safety standards, it often never results in anything more than a press release and some media coverage. BNSF never purchased the 5,000 tank cars.

Unsafe Tank Cars Can Carry More Oil and Bring Higher Profits

In January, Christopher A. Hart, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, presented his remarks on the NTSB’s safety “Most Wanted List” and once again mentioned the risk of the DOT-111s in moving crude oil.

“We have been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart said. “But an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time.”

Why would the industry want to take this risk? Could it be because unsafe cars are more profitable?

The more oil a tank car can haul, the more profitable that oil train will be. The way rail works is that the weight of the car plus the weight of the cargo can only combine to be a certain amount. If your tank car weighs less, you can put in more oil because it effectively has more capacity.

Exxon made this case to regulators prior to the rulemaking. Check out this slide the company presented that points out that adding safety measures “reduces capacity” — which reduces profit.

Tank cars full of volatile Bakken crude oil — deemed an “unacceptable public risk” by an NTSB member — continue to move through communities across North America. And the tank car owners are not moving to make the required safety retrofits.

While oil-by-rail traffic is declining with the current low oil prices, that is unlikely to continue. And with the lack of pipeline infrastructure needed to move dilbit from ever-increasing tar sands oil production, industry opinion holds that rail has a good chance of making a comeback. And they are going to need rail cars to move that oil.

The question remains: Will the Secretary of the Department of Transportation use the loophole in the FAST Act to grant the industry an extension on using DOT-111s past 2018?

If history is any indication, with rail safety improvements such as positive train control being repeatedly delayed for decades — including a recent three-year extension by Congress — it would appear that is a likely outcome if the DOT-111s are needed by the oil industry.

This makes the prediction by the head of the NTSB that “an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time” all the more likely to eventually occur.

Blog Image Credit: Justin Mikulka

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    Railway Age Magazine: The importance of little accidents

    Repost from Railway Age Magazine
    [Editor: At every turn, when an article mentions the North Dakota requirement for crude oil “stabilization,” I must remind the reader that North Dakota does NOT require crude oil “conditioning” as is required in Texas.  Conditioning would make the oil much safer.  – RS]

    The importance of little accidents

    By  David Schanoes, July 20, 2015 
    You know the kind I mean: the ones where nobody gets hurt, nothing blows up, and nobody shows up, except you.

    You get there. There’s no press, no NTSB “go team,” no competing reflectorized vests with initials like FBI, DHS, ATF, PHMSA, DEA, FRA, NTSB. No senators expressing shock and dismay and demanding that heads will—as the cameras do—roll.

    There’s just you. The wreckmaster is on the way. The track supervisor too. The local fire department is there, and the cops. Everybody is thinking, “What a mess.” And looking at you.

    And you know what? It’s better this way. We might actually be able to learn something. Less noise, more signal.

    We’ve had a couple of the little ones recently.

    First, on July 16, a BNSF unit crude oil train derailed 22 cars near Culbertson, Mont. Three tank cars ruptured, spilling approximately 35,000 gallons of crude. No fire, no explosion, no headlines, none of that stuff I listed above and that I would be happy to never list again.

    Now, if I were BNSF, or the NTSB, or FRA, or DOT, or PHMSA, I’d be very interested in this no-fire, no-explosion derailment. BNSF hasn’t identified the source of the crude, but since the train was loaded by Savage Bakken Oil Services in Trenton, N. Dak., I think it’s safe to assume that the contents of this train was Bakken crude.

    Last April, North Dakota required that Bakken crude be stabilized (reducing its volatility) prior to transport. So I’d be very interested in knowing if this train was transporting the stabilized crude.

    Even more recently, USDOT has established new specs for tank cars handling unpressurized flammable materials, replacing DOT 111 and 111A specs for those cars with the new 117 classification. Another “interim” car, CPC 1232, is currently in service.

    So I’d be very interested in knowing if the three cars that ruptured were 111, 111A, or 1232 models. ’d also be very interested in knowing if other cars that did derail but did not rupture are 111, 111A, or 1232 models.

    DOT has also stipulated that CBR trains be fitted for ECP, electro-pneumatic braking, meaning of course, that the CBR tank cars must be fitted for ECP braking.

    ECP braking is not a new concept. It’s been around for at least, what, 60 years? Instead of using changes in air pressure traveling throughout the entire length of the train to signal for the application of brakes, electro-pneumatic braking sends an electronic signal to receivers on each car’s air brake apparatus to initiate braking. “Lag time” is virtually eliminated; brakes set up simultaneously, smoothly, with dramatic reduction of in-train forces. Great idea—for passenger trains, where all the cars share common electrical connections with the locomotive.

    ECP may be a great idea for freight trains. It’s definitely an expensive one, as the 90,000 or so tank cars currently more or less captured in hazmat/CBR transport have no electrical connections to anything.

    So I’d be interested in knowing, with ECP braking, how many of the 22 cars that did derail would not have derailed. I’d be interested in knowing if the three tank cars that ruptured after derailing (a) wouldn’t have derailed to begin with and (b) would not have been subject to “rupture forces” due to additional impact from following cars if ECP braking had been installed.

    Sounds like a job for TTCI, if you ask me.

    And we had a second little accident on Friday, July 17, 2015, right here in New York City. Initially reported as a “sideswipe,” it was in fact a collision between two LIRR passenger trains. A westbound train was stopped at an interlocking signal at HALL. An eastbound train violated a signal displaying “stop,” and proceeded to collide with the stopped train. You can see a summary of the accident on, where else? YouTube. The summary begins around 3:31 into the video.

    Again, no injuries, no fires, no explosions. But a lot to learn, because at 13:50 into the video, the president of the LIRR says that because this stop signal violation and resulting collision took place in the interlocking, “PTC isn’t going to help.”

    This is startling news, and I hope it’s just a misunderstanding, as LIRR’s approved PTCIP (PTC Implementation Plan), available in public docket FRA-2010-0031, states:

    The LIRR PTC system will enforce a stop at every Home Signal displaying a Stop aspect. Transponders provide the onboard computer with the information that the train is approaching a Home Signal and the distance to that Home Signal. The onboard system uses this data to generate a speed profile with a 0 mph target speed at a target point in approach to the signal. . . .

    Now, back in the day, “home signals” meant the extreme outer opposing signals of an interlocking. Signals within the interlocking might be referred to as intermediate signals, although the requirements for complying with a stop indication from such a signal within the interlocking limits was exactly the same as that for the home signal.

    The distinction between “home” and “intermediate” interlocking signals has operating significance only in defining the geographical boundaries of the interlocking in which all the interlocking rules apply, including stop at every signal displaying stop.

    In addition 49 CFR 236.1005(a)(1)(i) (“Requirements for Positive Train Control systems) requires at interlockings where PTC routes intersect that PTC enforce “the stop on all routes.”

    It’s the little things that mean the most, sometimes, so I’m looking forward to the little answers.

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