Prediction: U.S. will ban older rail cars for oil in 3-5 years

Repost from Reuters (also appearing in Insurance Journal)

CN Rail sees U.S. banning older rail cars for oil in 3-5 years

By Rod Nickel  |  May 29, 2014

Canadian National Railway Chief Executive Claude Mongeau said on Thursday he expects U.S. regulators to phase out use of DOT-111 tank cars in three to five years, following a deadly explosion in Quebec last year.

Mongeau also expects U.S. authorities to decide no later than early 2015 on a new, safer design for cars to transport crude oil, he said in an interview.

“Canada has already spoken; all these older legacy DOT-111 cars have to be phased out of flammable service (there) in the next three years,” Mongeau said, speaking at a Sanford Bernstein conference in New York. “I think the U.S. will follow suit, three years, five years who knows? That’s the range I think.”

Canada will require that older rail cars used for carrying crude oil be phased out by May 2017, the government said in April, moving ahead of the United States to ban the controversial cars in light of burgeoning oil-by-rail traffic

The transport of oil by rail is rising due to fracking in North Dakota and drilling in Alberta’s oil sands. Oil train cargoes have been under scrutiny since a shipment derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, last July, killing 47 people in an explosion.

The type of cars that derailed there are known as DOT-111 cars, and are seen as being vulnerable to puncturing and leakage.

The Association of American Railroads has made several recommendations for the new cars, including thicker, stronger steel, but shippers, leasing companies and manufacturers have their own views too, Mongeau said.

“There’s broad agreement that we need a new tank car design for the future,” he said. “There’s not agreement on every detail and that’s what the rule-making (process) needs to review and make a decision on from a government standpoint.”

CN transported approximately 73,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013 across its North American network, more than double the previous year’s carloads, but still only 1.4 percent of its total freight carloadings. It expects to double its crude oil carload volumes again by 2015.

Since October 2011, new oil tank cars have been built to a higher standard, known as CPC 1232. The CPC 1232 standard will be the minimum requirement in Canada three years from now.

In the U.S., that standard is not yet regulation, but new cars are already being built to that design, Mongeau said. The Association of American Railroads has said it would like to see a new standard of railcar for oil service with safety features exceeding the 1232.

BNSF Railway Co said in March that production could start in January on the first batch of 5,000 next-generation tank cars designed to carry crude oil more safely.

Even so, the older DOT-111 cars have several years of service remaining, despite their perceived flaws.

“It’s a risk management process,” Mongeau said. “We have used these cars for many, many years in flammable service.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; additional reporting by Josh Schneyer in New York; Editing by Franklin Paul and Marguerita Choy)