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Railroad companies seeking stronger tank cars to carry oil

In January, we wrote about a growing concern among safety regulators in the United States. The National Transportation Safety Board has noted that the U.S. is in the midst of an oil boom due to increased domestic drilling and hydraulic fracturing. That excess oil is being transported across the country primarily by rail.

When transporting volatile materials like oil and ethanol, any train accidents are likely to be disastrous and fatal. In light of the fact that Chicago has long been a major rail hub, the dangers associated with this oil boom have been publicly discussed by the mayor and other city officials.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will eventually issue regulations for improving the safety of tank cars. But some companies are unwilling to wait and are addressing safety issues now. According to the Associated Press, BNSF Railway Co. recently announced that it would like to buy about 5,000 new tank cars with specific safety features that would go above and beyond what is currently available.

The extra features would include reinforcing both ends of the tank cars with steel shields approximately one-half inch thick. BNSF also wants tank cars with pressure relief valves on them.

What makes BNSF’s announcement especially noteworthy is that railroads don’t normally own the tank cars they transport. It seems as though BNSF predicts that the oil boom is likely continue and wants to make sure that the equipment carrying the volatile cargo minimizes the risk of a disaster in case of a train crash or derailment.

With so many tank cars carrying crude oil an aging infrastructure of rail lines, preparing for a major train accident is not so much an issue of “if,” but rather an issue of “when.” Hopefully, railroad companies will have already implemented their own safety precautions by then.

Source: Associated Press, "BNSF Plans To Upgrade Tanker Fleet After Accidents," Matthew Brown, Feb. 20, 2014

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