By Steve Guntli
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling for increased safety enhancements to reduce the dangers of fires in oil transport train cars.
On April 6, the NTSB issued four urgent recommendations to the national Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), calling for more “robust and fire-resistant” transports for cars carrying flammable or caustic materials, such as crude oil or ethanol. The board is calling for an aggressive schedule to retrofit existing rail cars with better thermal protection and improved pressure relief devices.
The NTSB found that the current fleet of DOT-111 rail cars, which are most commonly used to transport crude oil, rupture too easily when exposed to fire. The new CPC-1232, which is a retrofitted DOT-111 with a thicker shell, was also found to have unsatisfactory fire safety measures, according to the NTSB.
The board’s recommendations were the end result of an investigation into a train derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia on February 16. A 109-car CSX Corp transport train carrying over three million gallons of crude oil derailed and exploded, burning down a house and spurring the evacuation of two nearby towns. Three other accidents this year, two in Gogoma, Ontario and one in Galena, Illinois, have added urgency to the need for increased safety measures. In 2013, a runaway oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying half the downtown.
“We can’t wait a decade for safer rail cars,” said NTSB chairman Christopher Hart. “Crude oil rail traffic is increasing exponentially. The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements, otherwise we continue to put our communities at risk.”
The NTSB is recommending all DOT-111 transport cars be replaced or updated to include thermal protection systems, such as ceramic thermal blankets and increased capacity pressure release valves. Under current regulations, neither the DOT-111s nor the CPC-1232s are required to have thermal protection systems that would protect against the pool fires that can result after cars rupture.
The NTSB recommends the enhancements be implemented over the next five years. The board submitted their recommendations to PHMSA, which is required to address the recommendations to the NTSB’s satisfaction.