Wednesday, March 26, 2014

CN Plans to Phase Out Rail Cars that Caused the Lac Megantic Disaster

On March 25, Canadian National Railway announced that it would phase its fleet of older rail cars that carry flammable liquid including fossil fuels. These tanker cars came under public scrutiny after the tragic derailment and explosion of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) tankers carrying crude oil in Lac Megantic. The fiery derailment decimated the town and killed 47 people.

Even before the Lac Megantic disaster, the safety of these rail cars were called into question. Concerns about the DOT-111 tank car were in evidence in a 2012 report from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). According to the NTSB there have been at least five investigations into safety of the tanker cars, including accident investigations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

CN's fleet of 183 older DOT-111 tank rail cars will be replaced over the next four years as part of a safety improvement plan. It will phase out the remaining 143 leased DOT-111 cars in the same time frame as their leases expire. CN plans to invest spend $7 million Canadian (US 6.3 million) in new rail cars that meet the most modern safety specifications. The replacement cars meet the newest regulatory standards and have thicker hulls that are less likely to be punctured in a derailment.

However, CN's fleet represents only a tiny fraction of the old DOT-111 tanker cars that travel the rails. According to CN the company cannot refuse to haul the older DOT-111 owned by other companies.

Although some others have already committed to phasing out the older tank cars, An estimated 100,000 older DOT-111s travel North American rails each year.

We may see North America-wide regulations that would phase out all DOT-111 cars or at the very least retrofit them to make them safer.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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