DOT proposes 2-year phase-out of older tank cars for crude oil trains

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 23, 2014 


Recently filled, a tanker truck drives past railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands just outside the city limits of Sacramento, Calif. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT)


The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a two-year phase-out of older tank cars used to transport crude oil by rail, among other measures to improve the safety of crude oil transportation by rail.

Secretary Anthony Foxx outlined the long-anticpated proposals Wednesday, more than a year after a deadly derailment in Quebec focused government and public scrutiny on the rising volumes of crude oil shipped in trains.

DOT will seek the phase-out or retrofit of older model DOT-111 tank cars, long known to be vulnerable to failure in derailments, from crude oil and ethanol service.

“We are proposing to phase out the DOT-111 tank car in its current form,” Foxx said.

The department proposed various options for upgraded tank cars, including thicker steel shells, electronic braking and rollover protections.

The department also proposed a maximum 40 mph speed in all areas for trains operating with older tank cars and for urban areas with more than 100,000 residents. Tank cars that met the new requirements would be permitted to travel at 50 mph outside urban areas.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed rules, and Foxx said the comment period would not be extended because of the urgency of the issue.

The department also released Wednesday the results of its crude oil testing effort, which it began last year. It concludes that Bakken crude oil, which is extracted from shale rock by hydraulic fracturing, is more volatile than other crudes.

The department proposed a sampling and testing program and require crude oil shippers to provide information from the tests upon request.

The petroleum industry and refiners have disputed the department’s research on Bakken volatility. Oil interests have also pushed back on some of the proposed tank car standards, including the thickness of the shells.

Two of the department’s proposals would increase shell thickness from the current industry standard of 7/16 inch to 9/16 inch. A third option would keep the current standard, which the industry adopted in 2011.

Thicker shells could improve puncture resistance, but also add weight that means the cars can carry less cargo.

Foxx said Wednesday that department’s proposals were “supported by sound data and analysis.”

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