Railroads Plead for Better Oil Tank Car Safety

Railroad companies across the nation have asked safety regulators to require cars that carry flammable liquids to be modified or upgraded.

Groups that represent some of the nation's largest railroad companies—including the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association—are requesting that oil tank railcars have better safety features, according to The Wall Street Journal. The railroad companies are asking safety regulators to ensure that existing and new tank cars that carry crude oil, ethanol and flammable liquids be modified to better withstand accidents. If they cannot be modified, they would like them to be "aggressively" phased out.

The proposed changes would prevent a fire in one car from heating up the other cars surrounding it, leading them to explode in a chain reaction. According to the newspaper's account, this request would mean retrofitting 78,000 older tank cars and altering 14,000 new cars. The groups haven't requested a deadline or discussed cost details yet. They have asked the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to devise rules regarding those aspects.

Two serious spills in the past year—one in Quebec, Canada and one in Alabama—have made many question the safety of railcars that transport flammable materials. The amount of flammable materials being transported via railcars has skyrocketed over the last year, and the accidents may indicate more safety measures need to be implemented to safeguard this boom.

The newspaper's report said there are 228,000 general-purpose tank cars, also known as DOT-111s. The request would apply to 92,000 DOT-111s that carry flammable liquids, including 78,000 older cars. The changes could cost around $1 billion to implement. 

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