Outdated DOT-111 Rail Tank Cars Need to be Replaced Faster
In the aftermath of numerous recent oil train derailments, including the worst last July in Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada renewed its call yesterday for the speedy phase-out of older DOT-111 tank cars that have been known for decades to puncture easily and spill their hazardous products during derailments and collisions. TSB Chair Wendy Tadros told a House of Commons committee “A long and gradual phase-out of older-model cars simply isn’t good enough”, particularly considering the skyrocketing number of tank cars carrying crude oil and other dangerous petroleum products. Tadros also said the Lac-Megantic tragedy has led to an “erosion of public trust” in rail safety.
The U.S. Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car owners and lessors, had estimated a few months ago that it could take 10 years to modify the older tank cars, but more recently suggested the highest-risk cars could be modified in less time. Quebec-based Canadian National Railway has recently said it will take 4 years before it stops using its small fleet of outdated DOT-111s that it owns and leases. Canadian Pacific Railway said it was finalizing a plan to retrofit its small fleet of older tank cars. The vast majority of the 228,000 older DOT-111s still running on the tracks in Canada and the U.S. are owned by energy companies and other shippers of hazardous goods. At least 70% of the tank cars on North American tracks are the older-model DOT-111s.
Although new tank cars that are manufactured must meet new safety standards, the fact that the vast majority of tank cars rolling through our towns and cities are outdated DOT-111s, the kind that ruptured, exploded and caught fire in Lac-Megantic last year, worries municipalities and anyone who lives near railway tracks. Windsor, Ontario Councillor Warren Cosford was recently quoted saying, “We have oil tanker cars that are not designed to carry petroleum, and they’re rolling past my house.” Anywhere from 80 to 120 oil tank cars move through Windsor every day. Many other cities and towns in North America have similar fears.
Rail safety regulators in Canada and the U.S. are being criticized for not seriously addressing the tank car safety issue fast enough, especially since recommendations have been made for over 2 decades to make improvements. How many more disasters like the one in Lac-Megantic will it take before the DOT-111 bomb train cars are replaced or retrofitted? If left to industry, it will take many years before there are major improvements, because replacing or retrofitting the older cars will affect the bottom line for too many companies.