Good investigative report: DOT issues new emergency order

Repost from ABC7 WLS Chicago

Government issues emergency order on dangerous DOT-111 crude oil tankers

By Chuck Goudie

February 25, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Four months after an I-Team investigation exposed dangerous freight train shipments of crude oil running through our area, the federal government issued an emergency order to start dealing with the threat.

Tuesday’s emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation calls crude oil tankers an “imminent hazard.” As the I-Team found months ago, the hazard has been imminent for a long time. Twenty years year ago, safety board inspectors determined that what are known as DOT-111 tank cars were subject to rupture in derailments. They ordered design changes and structural upgrades, but nothing was ever done. Federal regulators sat up and noticed after ten accidents in the past year.

After recent derailments and explosions in North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec, Canada, the Department of Transportation issued an emergency order Tuesday that says “in light of continued dangers associated with petroleum crude oil shipments by rail, actions described in this order are necessary to eliminate unsafe conditions and practices that create an imminent hazard to public health and safety and the environment.”

The order requires all crude oil be properly tested before being transported. And all crude that travels by rail must be carried in these DOT-111 tank cars.  The older DOT-111 tank cars were deemed inadequate by the National Transportation Board more than 20 years ago.

Since the I-Team first reported on the risk on the rails last October, an investigation dubbed “Operation Classification” revealed some crude from the Bakken region,  including the oil in the tragic Lac Megantic derailment, was misclassified.

What that means is that potentially explosive crude oil was being shipped in rail cars even less safe than the DOT-111’s.

The so-called misclassification has resulted in $93,000 in fines. Tuesday’s order stated “misclassification is one of the most dangerous mistakes to be made when dealing with hazardous materials.”

There is a meeting Wednesday in Washington with government officials, and rail and oil industry leaders to talk about what to do next. Suburban Chicago leaders who have been all over this problem are still hoping the government will require tanker cars to be fixed to make them less likely to puncture or explode if they derail.