Repost from lohud.com, the Journal News
[Editor: Check out the map of rail routes in NY State showing schools, hospitals and shopping centers along the oil train tracks. (Zoom in on the area about 35 miles north of New York City.) – RS]
Outdated tankers carry explosive crude; feds seek refitKhurram Saeed, August 16, 2014
When you see an oil train roll by, you’re probably looking at a DOT-111 tank car.
The DOT-111s are an industry workhorse. They’ve been around for decades and make up 68 percent of the 335,000 tank cars in active use.
Until recently, the non-pressurized cars weren’t used to haul oil. That changed with the Bakken oil boom and when rail became the modern-day pipelines.
The federal government now wants the industry to retrofit or replace them over the next two years in the name of safety. Currently, 100,000 DOT-111s move crude oil and ethanol but only 20,000 meet the latest safety standards, making the older models susceptible to ripping open in a derailment or collision.
Railroads like CSX own fewer than 1 percent of the tank cars; most are owned by the oil industry and leasing firms, the Association of American Railroads says.
The U.S. Department of Transportation wants new tank cars to have thicker outer shells, thermal protection, a full-height head shield, rollover safeguards for top fittings and removable handles on valves that protrude from the bottom of the cars to reduce the risk of opening in an accident.
Eric de Place, a policy director at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, said the valves, which are used to drain fluid, likely would remain even though federal investigators have found they can shear off or open in derailments, causing the car’s contents to spill and possibly catch fire.
“Generally speaking, the oil producers — abetted by the oil shippers and the railroads themselves — have encouraged a go-slow approach to upgrading safety standards,” de Place wrote in an email. “They are principally concerned that requirements to use new tank cars or to retrofit existing ones would cost money and reduce the fleet available to move oil in the near term.”
Phil Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, said the rules do not go “nearly far enough” to protect the public and the environment, and include loopholes. He said the safer tank cars would only have to be used on trains that have 20 or more rail cars hauling flammable liquids.
“If they don’t like these safety standards, they can continue to ship oil in mixed trains with 19 older DOT-111s on them,” Musegaas said. “It doesn’t take 20 of these cars to cause a horrific accident.”
Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have called on the DOT to ban use of the tank cars immediately, citing an imminent risk to the public.
“How we ship this oil can be figured out later,” Musegaas said. “We need to protect communities that live near these oil trains.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has been calling for stricter standards for the “dangerous, crude-carrying” DOT-111s since last year.
“These much-needed regulations will phase out the aged and explosion-prone DOT-111 tanker cars that are hauling endless streams of highly flammable crude oil through Rockland and Westchester counties and lead to commonsense safety measures — like speed limits, new braking controls and standards for a safer tank car — that will further safeguard local communities,” Schumer said.
A newer-model tank car known as the CPC-1232 features many of the higher standards the DOT is seeking but they are not invincible. On April 30, a 105-car CSX oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Va. Several of the 17 tank cars that went off the track fell into the James River, and a CPC-1232 spilled about 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, causing a massive fire. No one was injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which raised issues about the DOT-111s several years ago, said it has concerns about the newer tank cars.
“We have found that the 1232 is also not as robust as is needed,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.