Tank car improvements required by the U.S. and Canadian governments last month should cut the risk of spills and fires in oil train accidents, Canadian investigators have concluded.
The finding came from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s investigation of on a derailment in January 2014 in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.
While the report pinpointed a broken wheel as the cause, the derailment provided a rare side-by-side comparison of the performance of two different types of tank cars in use for decades on the North American rail system.
A type of tank car called the DOT-112 survived the Plaster Rock derailment with no impact damage, according to the report, released Friday. Four such cars carrying butane derailed.
In contrast, two DOT-111 cars carrying crude oil sustained punctures, spilling more than 60,000 gallons. The spilled oil caught fire.
The DOT-112 cars have features very similar to the new DOT-117 standard unveiled by regulators on May 1. Both include half-inch thick shields that fully protect both ends of the car, thicker 9/16-inch shells and thermal insulation around the tank shell enclosed with an additional layer of steel.
Typically, the DOT-111 cars have 7/16-inch shells and none of the other protections.
As McClatchy reported last year, the DOT-112 was beefed up after a series of catastrophic tank car explosions in the 1970s that killed railroad workers and firefighters and caused extensive property damage. After the 112 was upgraded, the accidents subsided.
But the DOT-111 fleet remained unchanged, even when railroads began hauling larger quantities of ethanol a decade ago, followed by crude oil five years ago.
The Canadian report lists 13 other rail accidents involving crude oil or ethanol since 2005 that illustrate the vulnerabilities of the DOT-111. Three of those derailments took place this year, including two in Ontario and one in West Virginia.
The list also includes the 2013 disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which resulted in 47 fatalities. The families of the victims and their attorneys earlier this month unanimously ratified a proposed $350 million settlement package.
The U.S. Department of Transportation last month required that new tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol meet the DOT-117 standard beginning in October. Tank car owners, which are typically railcar manufacturers, financial firms and energy companies, must comply with a series of retrofit deadlines for DOT-111 cars that are spread out over a decade.
The oil industry says the timeline is too short, while environmentalists say it’s too long. Both have since taken the department to court.