Monday, April 13, 2015

NTSB Says Oil Train Tank Cars Need Upgrades Now

NTSB issued a series of recommendations after several incidents revealed shortcomings
© Tremblay
in voluntary industry standards for cars hauling oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids. Fuel-hauling tank cars need retrofits to prevent more explosive train wrecks, and safety officials say the public cannot wait another industry-suggested decade for improvements.

NTSB says the cars should be replaced or retrofitted with protective systems better able to withstand fire than the bare steel construction now widely in use. That could include ceramic thermal blankets "that surround the tank and shield it from intense heat should a nearby car catch fire."

In 2011, the industry voluntarily adopted rules requiring sturdier tank cars for hauling flammable liquids such as oil and ethanol. Cars built to the new standard split open in at least four incidents during the past year, including oil trains that derailed and burned recently in West Virginia and Illinois.

The recommendations come as DOT considers new rules to improve tank car safety. Analysts have predicted trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an incident happens in a densely populated area. If DOT decides it would take too long to retrofit the existing fleet with new protective features, NTSB recommends the agency consider significant speed restrictions on trains as an interim measure.