Today, standing at the Leo O'Brien Building in Albany, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) to require freight rail carriers to create a plan to retrofit or phase-out DOT-111 tank cars, which have proven to be flawed, out-of-date, and a factor in hazardous material spills during derailments. The recent freight rail derailment in the Canadian city of Lac--Megantic, Quebec, which involved DOT-111 cars, in combination with the increased shipments of crude oil along New York railways to the Port of Albany, leads Schumer to urge a corresponding increase in safety measures for New York freight rail, which must be implemented through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulatory process later this year.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has cited the design of the DOT-111 model tank car as a major factor in the 2009 Cherry Valley, Illinois freight rail accident and hazardous materials release, and has recommended either a redesign or replacement of DOT-111 model cars. Currently, the Port of Albany handles over 100 DOT-111 cars of crude oil a day, and Schumer therefore called on the federal DOT to impose requirements on freight rail carriers to phase-out these cars and avoid potential explosions, environmental spills or other dangerous occurrences in Capital Region communities along the rail line in a federal rulemaking later this year.
"The recent crash in Lac-Megantic and the increased number of trains carrying oil and other hazardous material into the Port of Albany has led me to urge the federal Department of Transportation to start phasing out older tank cars, particularly because they are thought to increase the damage that ensues after a derailment. The DOT-111 tank car has proven particularly prone to spills, tears and fires in the event of a derailment, and it's simply unacceptable for New York's communities to face that risk when we know thicker, tougher cars could keep us safer," said Schumer. "This is not to demonize freight rail or the significant economic activity the increased shipments mean for the Port of Albany and New York rail, but we have to protect that investment by limiting the risk for major damage in the event of a derailment. Simply put, the increased traffic of rail cars carrying crude oil into the Port of Albany warrants increased safety measures--and that begins with putting the safest, most up-to-date tank cars on the tracks from Buffalo to Syracuse to Albany and beyond."
Standing at the Leo O'Brien Building in Albany, Schumer highlighted an NTSB report, which found that the specifications of the DOT-111 tank cars were a factor in the hazardous materials release in a 2009 crash in Cherry Valley. The train in Cherry Valley was carrying 2 million gallons of ethanol when it derailed. Out of the 15 cars that piled up in the accident, the structure of 13 failed and sparked a massive fire. In a 2006 ethanol train derailment and fire in New Brighton, Pa., 20 of 23 derailed cars released ethanol. The cars that derailed in Lac-Megantic were DOT-111 cars.
In the report following the 2009 crash, the NTSB released a series of recommendations, including to the Pipeline and Hazmat Safety Administration to require all service tank cars carrying fuel ethanol and crude oil to have protections and features that far exceed the DOT-111 design requirements. The NTSB report concluded that had the DOT-111 cars been thicker and tougher, the spill and resulting fire would not have been as damaging, and the only way to avoid such problems in the future would be to retrofit or phase-out the older tanks cars. However, Schumer noted that the NTSB's warnings have fallen on deaf ears, and many catastrophic rail derailments have occurred since involving these cars.
Therefore, Schumer is urging the federal Dept. of Transportation to issue a requirement during the regulatory process later this year to either retrofit or phase out the DOT-111 cars entirely. DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112 which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pile-ups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. The FRA and PHMSA would carry out the new plan, and Schumer also wrote the Association of American Railroads, the industry's trade association, to urge their cooperation in retrofitting or phasing-out the DOT-111.
This year, there will be more trains carrying crude across North America than ever before: nearly 1,400 carloads a day. In 2009, there were just 31 carloads a day. The Port of Albany alone handles over 100 DOT-111 cars of crude oil a day, and over 395 million barrels of crude a year. The Port has petitioned the State Dept. of Environment Conservation (DEC) to double the number of annual crude barrels allowed through the Port. In addition, the Times Union reports that Buckeye Partners, one of two major carriers of crude out of the Port, wants to increase the amount of ethanol shipped through the port to 780 million barrels per year. The CP Rail line and CSX line, which move freight rail carrying crude oil from extractors in the Midwest to the Port of Albany, pass through cities and towns like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Dunkirk, Plattsburgh, Whitehall, Saratoga, Mechanicville, and Watervilet on their way to Albany.
Schumer explained that the increased movement of crude through the Port was of benefit to the city, region, and state's economy, but that the risk of a catastrophe like Lac-Megantic must be minimized. The NTSB report and a history of evidence linking the DOT-111 tanks cars to structural failure during derailments led Schumer to push for the new DOT requirement, which would make freight rail safer throughout New York and the country.
A copy of Senator Schumer's letter to the FRA and PHSMA appears below:
Dear Administrator Szabo and Administrator Quarterman,
I write to urge that you include a plan to retrofit or phase-out existing DOT-111 tank cars used to transport crude oil or fuel ethanol in your proposed rule to establish new standards for the safe transportation of crude oil and fuel ethanol (RIN 2137-AE85). A recent tragedy in the town of Lac-Megantic, near Montreal, Canada where a train derailed and killed 47 people and incinerated over 30 buildings in the town's center shows the need for stronger rail cars and improved safety standards. The flaws in DOT-111 cars, which represent 69% of the national tank fleet carrying crude oil and ethanol, are well known and the NTSB has noted that "DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents". We have known about these DOT-111 tank car flaws for a very long time, and the PHMSA and FRA must act on the NTSB's March 2012 recommendations in order to prevent another derailment that could lead to another explosion or fire which could unnecessarily endanger lives and cause significant environmental damage.
In the first half of this year, U.S. railroads moved 178,000 carloads of crude oil. That's double the number of the same period last year and 3 times more than the same period of 2009. Rail shipments from the Bakken region of North Dakota alone have increased from 500 carloads to more than 13,000 carloads, and volume is expected to grow to 70,000 annually. There will also be an increasing need for tank cars to transport fuel ethanol due to the mandated tripling of the amount of ethanol blended into the nation's fuel supply by 2022. This boom in transportation of energy by rail can have a positive economic impact, but it also must bring increased scrutiny and meaningful improvements in rail car safety to prevent failures during a derailment.
The NTSB investigation into a number of incidents involving DOT-111 cars, which were also those in service in the recent Lac-Megantic derailment, has revealed that when trains do derail these cars fail at a high rate. In 2009, a train carrying 2 million gallons of ethanol through Cherry Valley, Illinois derailed. Of the 15 cars that piled up, 13 failed and caused a highly dangerous fire and loss of life. Prior to that, a 2006 derailment and fire in New Brighton, Pennsylvania showed that 20 of 23 derailed DOT-111 tank cars released ethanol. The NTSB's investigation into the Cherry Valley derailment found that DOT-111 cars have a high incident of failure during accidents.
DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112 which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pile-ups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. The NTSB concluded that if enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems and increased shell thickness had been features of the DOT-11 cars involved in the Cherry Valley accident, the release of hazardous materials likely would have been significantly reduced, mitigating the severity of the accident. I believe the same could be said of the DOT-111 cars involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster.
In a March 2, 2012 letter you received from NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman made the following recommendations to the PHMSA:
- Require that existing general service tank cars authorized for transportation of denatured fuel ethanol and crude oil have enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems and top fittings protection that exceed existing design requirements for DOT-111 tank cars.
- Require that all bottom outlet valves used on existing non-pressure tank cars (DOT-111 cars are not pressurized) are designed to remain closed during accidents in which the valve and operating handle are subjected to impact forces.
- Require that all existing tank cars authorized for transportation of hazardous materials have center sill or draft sill attachment designs that conform to the revised American Association of Railroads' design requirements adopted as a result of safety recommendation R-12-9. (R-12-7).
While industry and the PHMSA have made very positive progress with regard to new tank cars, it has not included retrofits to existing cars or a phase out plan for those in service in its rulemaking. The boom in transportation of crude oil and ethanol by oil can certainly bring economic benefits to communities, but such a substantial increase in the transportation of hazardous materials must also include meaningful safety improvements. I ask that in your proposed rule, you move to include NTSB Administrator Hersman's recommendations. Thank you for your attention to this matter and all of the work you do in ensuring the safe transportation of goods through rail in this country. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or my staff.
Charles E. Schumer