Undoubtedly, you have seen them before if you've ever been caught waiting for a train to pass. Chances are you probably paid little attention to the long cylindrical, cigar shaped oil tank container railcars used to ship crude oil by train. Those cars may soon become a thing of the past once new safety regulations take effect.
On July 23, the U. S. Transportation Secretary announced that his agency will be taking steps to improve the way crude oil is currently transported along American railways. Among the proposed changes is the phasing out of older model tank cars that are known throughout the industry as DOT – 111s within a period of two years unless they undergo structural improvements to make their shells thicker and receive other safety device installments.
The push for increased railcar safety is meant to reduce commercial vehicle accident injuries. This move follows an accident that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Canada, last year in which 47 people were killed. Much of the town was destroyed as a result of train accident that subsequently erupted into a fiery maelstrom.
An environmental group based in San Francisco, California described the tanker railcars as some of the heaviest and most dangerous trains that travel daily through most major American cities. That group says the oil tanker railcars should be phased out immediately because they are unsafe at any speed.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement supporting the DOT's proposal, saying that it was an important step to reducing the risk of catastrophic disasters in American cities. The Chicago mayor also lauded another component of the proposed changes that seeks to improve the testing and classification of the materials being hauled in the oil tank cars. Currently, many of the older railcars are used to haul Bakken-crude oil, which is known to retain qualities that make it more volatile than average crude oil. That makes it more difficult for first responders to contain.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "New rules proposed for railroad oil shipments" Richard Wronski, Jul. 23, 2014