New Rules Are Likely on Railroad Tank Cars After Series of Accidents
It’s no secret that the DOT-111, the tank car that is the workhorse for transporting flammable materials and hazardous substances on America’s railroads, has a poor safety record and well documented weaknesses.
What alarms me as a Virginia railroad accident attorney is how long it is taking railroads and decision makers to rectify the problem.
The Miami Herald reported federal legislators may be weeks away from issuing new safety guidelines for tank cars carrying flammable liquids after a series of accidents involving the tank cars in recent months.
“The type of general-service tank car involved in recent incidents with crude oil trains in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota – the DOT-111-A – has a poor safety record with hazardous cargoes that goes back decades, raising questions about why it took so long for the railroad industry and its federal regulators to address a problem they knew how to fix,” reported the Miami Herald.
In 2012, I warned the DOT-111 was a disaster waiting to happen. In fact, there have been many accidents in which this type of tank car ruptured. The disaster has now occurred in Quebec, Canada, in 2013 when a runaway train exploded in a small town, killing 47 people. If the tank cars involved in this accident had been built to more up-to-date specifications, an explosion may have been averted or more contained.
While some more specialized types of tank cars used on the railroads received safety upgrades in the 1980s – upgrades industry’s own research shows were effective at containing substances when accidents, occur – there are tens of thousands of old-style tank cars on the railroads that are unimproved.
The National Transportation Safety Board, has cited the DOT-111A’s deficiencies many times over the years for making accidents worse than they could have been. While it can make recommendations it does not have the power to implement changes.
“Moving as quickly as possible to upgrade the tank cars is critical,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB who now works as a transportation safety consultant. “No one wants to see it happen again.”
The Miami Herald cited a number of accidents linked to the DOT-111A tank car including:
- A 1983 rail yard accident that led to the evacuation of more than 9,000 people in Denver when corrosive nitric acid seeped through a puncture in a tank car, forming a large vapor cloud.
- The worst chemical spill in California’s history in 1999, in which a tank car loaded with a toxic pesticide fell into the Sacramento River during a derailment, poisoning a 40-mile stretch of one of the state’s most important water supplies and fishing areas.
- A 2001 derailment midway in rail tunnel beneath downtown Baltimore in which a punctured tank car carrying flammable tripropylene fueled a raging fire that burned for five days.
Recently, I wrote about the chlorine leak that occurred during a derailment in Graniteville, South Carolina in 2005; a disaster that left nine people dead and others sick. I represented some of the families in legal actions against the railroad. If you are a railroad worker or a resident living near the line, who has been made ill by the actions of a railroad, call an experienced railroad injury lawyer at Cooper Hurley at 757.455.0077. See Cooperhurley.com