In coming weeks the U.S. Dept. of
Transportation is expected to outline a
comprehensive plan to ensure the safe transportation of oil through our towns and cities and it's expected to cover volatile issues such as tank car design, speed and routing.
To be clear, the feds are mediating an agreement
between the oil producers who are represented by the American Petroleum
Institute (API), and, the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Interestingly enough, the American Fuel &
Petrochemical Manufacturers Association, representing the oil refineries (which
own or lease most of the rail tank cars used to transport crude oil) are on the
outside looking in. And, at least one railroad believes the less you know, the
According to Downstreamtoday.com, a site that covers oil industry trends and logistics, the API and AAR
were said to have agreed on a schedule for retiring older tank cars and a
toughened design for newer cars that
carry most of the fuel out of North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil fields. The re-design is needed, safety experts
contend, because the Bakken crude has greater volatility making it more
The deal would order older tank cars, model DOT-111,
off the tracks or into workshops for safety upgrades and there are
approximately 94,000 DOT-111s currently in operation according to the Railway
Supply Institute. Approximately 39,000
are used to carry crude, less than one-third of which are built to a tougher
safety standard that was implemented in 2011. The key difference is the
thickness of the car’s shell.
For new tank cars, rail operators and tank car
manufacturers supported shell thickness of 9/16 of an inch; while the oil
industry maintained that 7/16 is sufficient. AAR and API reportedly agreed to
split the difference and settle on a half-inch thickness for tank cars.
U.S. DOT proposed a set of regulations it announced
last Wednesday which begins a 60-day public comment period. It proposes a two-year phase out of the
older tank cars for freight trains carrying crude oil and also calls for
enhanced braking equipment and stricter standards for a new generation of tank
The proposal defines a “high-hazard flammable train”
as a freight train carrying 20 or more tankers loaded with flammable crude oil
or ethanol. Crude oil and ethanol
scheduled for freight train transport would be subjected to sampling to
determine their flammability.
High-hazzard trains would have to comply with
certain speed restrictions. The
department proposed three options for a 40-mph speed limit that could apply as
follows: A) in all areas; B) in high-threat urban areas; or C) only in areas
with at least 100,000 people.
But believe it or not, Norfolk Southern, a rail
company based in Norfolk, VA has filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland
to block media from learning details about crude oil shipments. Is there something they want to hide?
At the same time, communities from New York to
Seattle have reason to watch closely.
Just weeks ago, CSX Transportation disclosed to the
state of New York that 15 to 30 trains, each carrying at least 1 million
gallons of Bakken crude, pass through the Hudson Valley each week, south from
Albany, through Rockland County to refineries in New Jersey.
Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer reported that North
Dakota oil will soon “flow through Seattle in a massive way” if new plans for
shipments to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point succeed.
The oil would be destined for four refineries and travel through Puget
Sound population centers such as Seattle, Tacoma, Edmonds, Marysville and
It’s all a matter of self-preservation. Let’s hope we get this right.