Crude-by-Rail's New Workhorse No Better than the Old Workhorse

The new oil tank cars were supposed to be key to preventing the fiery explosions associated with oil-train derailments. However, four recent explosions since Feb. 14, with two occurring last Thursday and Saturday, all involved the new tankers.
March 10, 2015, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The latest oil-train derailment and explosion occurred early Saturday morning (March 7) in northern Ontario, Canada, a mere two days after a similar fiery incident near Galena, Ill. Outside of being in different countries on different railways involing different types of crude oil, the one thing they shared in common is that the tank cars that erupted in flames were CPC-1232s, "the new workhorses of the soaring crude-by-rail industry," write Russell Gold and Paul Vieira of The Wall Street Journal. "Built with thicker shells and pressure-relief devices," the CPC (Casualty Prevention Circular) 1232 is considered to be greater superior to the older DOT-111 tankers.

The first Ontario derailment and explosion occurred on February 14, two days before the incident near Mount Carbon, West Va. However, the problem with the newer cars was detected when an oil-train composed of the newer cars exploded on April 30 in Lynchburg, Va. It was was carrying crude from Bakken shale in North Dakota, as was the BNSF Railway train in Galena, Ill and the CSX train in Mount Carbon. Gold had written how this crude "contains a high level of gas, making it more volatile than other kinds of crude." The two Ontario, Canada explosions on the CN Railway line both involved tar sands crude from Alberta.

The recent explosions come at an odd time for the Department of Transportation (DOT) which is determining when to phase out the older DOT-111 cars. According to the Association of American Railroads, there are still about 100,000 of these cars in operation, as well as 60,000 CPC-1232s, write Gold and Vieira. "Final regulations for phasing out older freight-rail tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol will be released May 12 instead of March 31 as originally planned, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation," writes Gannett's Brian Tumulty.  

Correspondent's note: Subscriber-only content for The Wall Street Journal article may be available to non-subscribers for up to seven days after March 9.

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Published on Monday, March 9, 2015 in The Wall Street Journal
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