February 18, 2015

Train safety standards

The train manufacturing industry has responded to safety issues by now making CPC 1232 cars to replace the many DOT-111 cars that are still in use. But even this improvement was not sufficient in the derailment in West Virginia earlier this week with huge explosions, fire and leak. That particular train was hauling 107 tank cars of North Dakota Bakken Field crude oil in the newer 1232 cars, not the older type model.

The CPC 1232 with a thicker one inch hull is the newer, supposedly tougher version of the DOT-111 cars that were manufactured up until 2011 and are being phased out. 1232 cars have reinforced top fittings to help prevent spills and pressure relief valves to allow gas to escape when there are fires. Thicker steel plates that are less likely to be punctured by couplers are another improvement. But the thousands of gallons of crude bound for the Yorktown, Virginia depot were still vulnerable.

This is the same route used by the train that exploded in Lynchburg last April. And if the derailment had occurred 35 miles earlier, while the train passed through the city of Charleston, W.Va., it could have been catastrophic. Less risk is not the same as risk-free.

The rail industry rightly claims that in lieu of the Keystone pipeline, this will be the travel path of countless more train cars of crude oil. And more spills. Pipelines are merely marginally safer than rail cars.