With an increasing volume of hazardous materials being transported by train, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling for the replacement or retrofitting of tanker cars.
Schumer, joined by state legislators and local officials, delivered his message Tuesday morning from the Village of Sloan, a center of rail activity named after a former railroad president.
“This is one of the most heavily traveled train routes in the country,” he said. “There’s a known threat that passes through the towns hundreds of times each day.”
Crude oil – too much for existing pipelines to handle – and other hazardous materials are being carried in U.S. Department of Transportation-111 tank cars, which Schumer said account for 70 percent of tankers in use. Up to 300 of those cars, carrying crude oil or ethanol, travel daily through Western New York on the CSX rail lines, he said.
But the safety of the DOT-111 cars – their shape resembles a soda can – was called into question long ago. “They are prone to tears and spills when there’s a derailment, God forbid,” Schumer said.
On July 6, a runaway train carrying oil in DOT-111 tankers derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing an estimated 50 people and destroying dozens of buildings in the town of 6,000.
Before that, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the “inadequate design” of the tankers contributed to the severity of the June 2009 derailment and fire of a train carrying ethanol through Cherry Valley, Ill. One woman died and nine other people were injured.
But problems with the tankers go back even further.
A 1991 safety study by the NTSB, examining DOT-111 cars involved in accidents between March 1988 and February 1989, concluded those cars had a higher incidence of failure when involved in accidents.
Schumer is calling on the federal Department of Transportation to come up with a plan to phase out DOT-111 cars, which he said still could be used for transporting less-hazardous substances such as corn syrup. “The new cars are made structurally stronger,” he said, citing the DOT-105 and DOT-112 models.
The change must be implemented through the Federal Railway Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulatory process.
Schumer and state officials referred to a July 17 derailment at William Street and Fillmore Avenue, in which one of three cars that derailed was a tanker containing ethanol. No leaks were reported.
The DOT-111 cars “are a disaster waiting to happen,” said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo.
Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, noted the 300-mile route that tankers follow across the state. “The potential that exists in any of those communities ... could be disastrous,” he said.
According to the Association of American Railroads, the industry adopted voluntary standards that all tankers ordered after October 2011 meet the tougher standards recommended by the NTSB after the 2009 crash.
But those voluntary standards don’t apply to an estimated 40,000 cars built before October 2011.