Local Officials Urge Safety First When it Comes to Rail Tank Cars

September 20, 2013

By Leslie Wollack

Moving oil across the country by train has become a brisk business. Over 600,000 carloads of oil and ethanol were moved by rail in the U.S. in 2012, up almost 37 percent from 2008.

But two recent accidents involving rail tank cars carrying hazardous materials have prompted local officials to support new federal safety requirements.

In 2009, a tank car accident in Rockford, Illinois killed one person, injured nine others and started a fire that took over 24 hours to burn itself out. A more recent catastrophic derailment of a train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec caused 47 deaths and untold damage to the community. Both involved the same defective tank car, the DOT-111.

Since 1991, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued findings five times with concerns about the DOT-111, the primary tank car that carries oil and ethanol, and its inability to withstand punctures in the case of an accident.  While new tank cars are being built to meet higher safety standards, existing cars can remain in use more for more than 40 years.    

Prior to the Canadian derailment, the Village of Barrington, Illinois and the Illinois-based TRAC coalition filed a petition to the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which resulted in a notice of proposed rulemaking on September 6, 2013. The rulemaking is intended to make the fleet of new and existing tank cars that carry ethanol and crude oil by rail in North America safer and more able to withstand a crash.  

PHMSA recently announced that it wanted to identify additional safety enhancements and provide the public an opportunity to comment. PHMSA then released its notice of proposed rulemaking, and is seeking input from local governments by November 5, 2013.

City officials are encouraged to weigh in on proposed rail safety changes that will make the fleet of new and existing tank cars that carry ethanol and crude oil by rail in North America more “crashworthy” in the event of a derailment or accident:

  • Through the Federal Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov;
  • Via Fax: 1-202-493-2251; or
  • By mail: Docket Management System; U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Routing Symbol M-30, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590.