Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tank Car Safety, Revisited

Since writing Tank Car Safety, there has been another round of derailments and fires. The disconcerting issue is that most, if not all, of them were using the new (half-height head shield design), supposedly, safe cars.

A derailment of a train carrying oil from the North Dakota's shale fields in Feb. 2015 in Mount Carbon, W. Va involved the "safer" design: yahoo reports and Grand Forks Herald reports.

EPA
The BNSF wreck in March, 2015 near Galena, IL that burned also involved the "safer" design. "Although BNSF Railway officials have not disclosed the destination, railroad industry experts say the train that derailed near Galena was likely been bound for Chicago, and then sent to refineries on the East Coast." [ChicagoTribune] Why BNSF would not be honest about such an obvious fact as the destination helps Americans to distrust corporations. Anybody can look at a map and see that train would have used the route that goes a few blocks from my home in Downers Grove, IL. The really scary aspect of this accident is that this train was going rather slow. So the industries stop-gap measure of slowing down oil trains does not solve the problem.

In May, 2015, BNSF dumped 6 cars near Heimdal, ND. But the NBC article is too shallow to indicate the design generation of the tank cars. This is another train that was probably headed to a refinery on the east could and that would have used the route that is a few blocks from my house. [NBC]

In Nov, 2015, both CN and BNSF had tank car wrecks in Wisconsin. [Fox9]

The railroad industry has a test facility in Colorado. Weren't these new designs tested with North Dakota crude? The industry has paid a lot for "safe" tank cars only to find that they are not safe. The FRA has issued new design requirements. But it is the first time I have seen an industry ask for more expensive design requirements than the FRA specified. The FRA stuck with the burn resistant time that was designed for propane cars. (My memory of that requirement was 24 hours.) The industry wanted a longer burn time required (4 days?) now that the old rule of thumb "crude oil doesn't burn" has been proven to be very wrong. I sure hope they did better testing of this second "safer" design before thousands of cars are built with that design.

A page concerning train derailments has an interactive map indicating where oil spills have happened. (Unfortunately, the link for a more readable map is broke.) CRUDE-BY-RAIL ACROSS AMERICA does have a map that is readable. They comment: "Oil trains are not subject to the same strict routing requirements placed on other hazardous materials; trains carrying explosive crude are permitted to pass directly through cities—with tragic results. In the absence of more protective regulations, communities across the country are beginning to take matters in their own hands." Part of the problem is that the railroads tore up most of the routes that bypassed Chicago. And Chicago is paying billions of dollars to allow trains to pass through it more efficiently. A new bypass is being fought by the NIMBYers and rejected by some of the Class I railroads. It is one thing to use a longer route for a single tank car carrying a nasty chemical, but another thing to use a longer route for 100+ car train.

The government has defined the notion of a Key Train speed limit. "The Key Train limit applies to High Threat Urban Areas as designated by the government (major cities) as well as any city with a population over 100,000." The speed limit for Key Trains is 35mph on the BNSF and 40mph on the CSX in the Chicago area. In contrast, regular freight trains can run through Downers Grove at 50mph instead of 35mph. Unfortunately, the slower speed of long oil and ethanol trains does cause a bigger traffic jam for cars using the crossings and for the railroad. For completeness, passenger trains (commuter and Amtrak) can go 70mph. [comments on Facebook posting]

The video below is calling the legacy DOT-111 design the one with half-height shields. But this design is the design that was built starting just a few years ago to replace the original legacy DOT-111 design. The advertisement implies that the newest design should have lower probability of release at 50mph than the previous design has at 35mph. But it talks about a "high-capacity pressure release valve." Why is a release of product from a safety value less dangerous to the environment/fire-potential than a rupture?


Update: Ethanol spills on the rise in the Midwest

New, Safer US Rail Cars Gather Dust Even as Ethanol Trains Grow Longer  The lease for a DOT-117 is about three times as much as a DOT-111 car, and ethanol doesn't have to convert until 2023.

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