Latest Derailment: near Dubuque, Iowa, involving outdated tank cars

Repost from, Cedar Rapids, IA
[Editor: apologies for the video’s commercial ad, but otherwise a good report.  See also coverage with another photo and perhaps better information on Reuters.  – RS]

Fiery derailment near Dubuque involved outdated tank cars

DOT-111s prone to puncture, but still heavily used

By Erin Jordan, The Gazette, Feb 4, 2015

DUBUQUE COUNTY — A train derailment Wednesday near Dubuque that caused three tank cars to erupt in flames and three others to plunge into the icy Mississippi River involved outdated cars prone to punctures and spills.

The Canadian Pacific freight train headed southeast derailed around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in a remote area north of Dubuque. Eleven cars left the track, with 10 of those carrying ethanol, officials reported. Three of those cars caught fire and three slipped into the river.

An aerial shot of the derailed train north of Dubuque. (Charlie Schurmann/KCRG-TV9)

“I can confirm that DOT-111s were involved, how many of the derailed cars were DOT-111s I am not sure yet,” Canadian Pacific spokesperson Jeremy Berry reported Wednesday evening.

DOT-111s, black, tubed-shaped tank cars, make up about 70 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet. The outdated cars have been blamed for explosions and spills during derailments across North America. In the worst of these crashes, 47 people died when a runaway train of crude oil in DOT-111 cars exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 6, 2013.

In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a two-year phase out of DOT-111s for carrying some flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol, unless the tanks are retrofitted. The rail car supply industry has so far built more than 17,000 upgraded tankers that include thicker steel, stronger end caps and more protection for top fittings, Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, a trade group that acts on behalf of suppliers to North American railroads, told The Gazette in April. The group expect to have 55,000 by the end of 2015.

Tens of thousands of the cars are still in use because of the high volume of crude oil being shipped from the Bakken region or North Dakota, Montana and Canada.

Nine Iowa counties, including five along the Mississippi River in Eastern Iowa, see rail shipments of one million gallons or more of extra-flammable Bakken crude, The Gazette reported in June.

“You have these older cars that don’t meet the specs carrying these flammable liquids, this is what you’re going to get,” Albert Ratner, a University of Iowa associate professor of mechanical engineering who studies fires during train derailments, said about Wednesday’s crash.

No one was injured in the derailment. Because the tracks run between the river and a steep, snow-covered slope, fire crews were not able to put out the blaze Wednesday, the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office reported.

The derailment could have caused more damage in a metropolitan area, Ratner said. The snow also likely reduced the potential for nearby trees catching fire. But because DOT-111s are notorious for breaking apart in derailments, ethanol could have spilled from the tank cars into the Mississippi, Ratner said.

“You could have problems with it going downstream and spreading out the environmental effect,” he said.

Canadian Pacific officials were still gathering information Wednesday evening.

“Safety is the priority and we take these incidents seriously,” Spokeswoman Salem Woodrow wrote in an email. “CP’s emergency protocols were immediately enacted and all safety precautions and measures are being taken as our crews respond to the incident.”