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As Many as 300 DOT-111 Cars Pass Through Buffalo Each Day, According to Industry Sources; The NTSB - Fed Transportation Safety Watchdog – Has Warned That Car Design Must Be Changed So That Derailments Don’t Cause Explosions, Environmental Spills in Communities Along Rail Line

Schumer Highlighted That DOT-111 Tank Cars Are Tragically Flawed, Causing Potential Damage & Catastrophic Loss of Hazardous Materials During Derailments – Schumer Called on Fed Dept. of Transportation To Require Plan to Retrofit or Replace all DOT-111 Cars Passing Through Western New York

Schumer: Increased Traffic on CSX Lines in the Buffalo Region Must Be Met With Increased Safety

Today, in Cheektowaga, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) to require freight rail carriers to create a plan to retrofit or phase-out DOT-111 tank cars, which have proven to be flawed, out-of-date, and result in hazardous material spills during derailments. The recent deadly freight rail derailment in the Canadian city of Lac–Megantic, Quebec, as well as the increased shipments of crude oil along New York railways through Western New York, leads Schumer to urge a corresponding increase in safety measures for New York freight rail. Schumer explained this change must be implemented through the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulatory process. 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has cited the design of the DOT-111 model tank car as a major factor in the 2009 Cherry Valley, Illinois freight rail accident and hazardous materials release, and has recommended either a redesign or replacement of DOT-111 model cars. Currently, the CSX lines through Buffalo and Cheektowaga have about 200 to 300 DOT-111 cars carrying crude oil or ethanol each day, and Schumer therefore called on the federal DOT to impose requirements on freight rail carriers to phase-out these cars and avoid potential explosions, environmental spills or other dangerous occurrences in Western New York communities along the rail line in a federal rulemaking expected later this year.

“The recent crash in Lac-Megantic and the increased number of trains carrying oil and other hazardous material down the CSX line through Western New York are a cause for concern, and I am urging the federal Department of Transportation to start phasing out older tank cars, particularly because they are thought to increase the damage that ensues after a derailment. The DOT-111 tank car has proven particularly prone to spills, tears and fires in the event of a derailment, and it’s simply unacceptable for New York’s communities along the rail lines to face that risk when we know thicker, tougher cars could keep us safer,” said Senator Schumer. “This is not to demonize freight rail or the significant economic activity the increased shipments mean for Erie County and New York rail, but we have to protect that investment by limiting the risk for major damage in the event of a derailment. Simply put, the increased traffic of rail cars carrying crude oil through Western New York warrants increased safety measures—and that begins with putting the safest, most up-to-date tank cars on the tracks from Buffalo to Rochester to Albany and beyond.”

“Senator Schumer is absolutely right, the DOT-111 tank car is dangerous and outdated, and we need to get it off the tracks and into the scrap yard,” said State Senator Timothy M. Kennedy. “These tank cars are coming through crowded residential areas in Buffalo more and more each passing week, we cannot wait for the next Cherry Valley or Lac-Megantic disaster to occur for us to finally take action.  The NTSB’s warnings have not been heeded; we now need firm regulations put in place that will ensure we have safer trains passing through our neighborhoods.  I want to thank Senator Schumer for his hard work on this issue that will prevent future disasters and make residents in Buffalo safer.” 

“As a member of the Transportation Committee I am in full support of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s efforts in retrofitting or phasing-out DOT-111 Tank Cars,” said Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak. “The rail yard along Broadway in my district is a specific concern of mine as it still has a significant amount of goods that come through to this day. We must continue to ensure the safety of residents by making certain that all vehicles containing hazardous waste have the proper protections against disasters that can occur from derailment.”

Schumer was joined by State Senator Tim Kennedy, State Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, and other local officials. Standing in front of a freight rail yard in Sloan, Schumer highlighted an NTSB report, which found that the specifications of the DOT-111 tank cars were a factor in the hazardous materials release in a 2009 crash in Cherry Valley.  The train in Cherry Valley was carrying 2 million gallons of ethanol when it derailed. Out of the 15 cars that piled up in the accident, the structure of 13 failed and sparked a massive fire. In a 2006 ethanol train derailment and fire in New Brighton, Pa., 20 of 23 derailed cars released ethanol. The cars that derailed in Lac-Megantic were also DOT-111 cars.

In the report following the 2009 crash, the NTSB released a series of recommendations, including to the Pipeline and Hazmat Safety Administration to require all service tank cars carrying fuel ethanol and crude oil to have protections and features that far exceed the DOT-111 design requirements. The NTSB report concluded that had the DOT-111 cars been thicker and tougher, the spill and resulting fire would not have been as damaging, and the only way to avoid such problems in the future would be to retrofit or phase-out the older tanks cars. However, Schumer noted that the NTSB’s warnings have fallen on deaf ears, and many catastrophic rail derailments have occurred since involving these cars.

In addition to some of the high profile derailments, there have also been a number of local derailments in recent years, including in late July of this year, when a CSX train carrying ethanol jumped the tracks at the overpass of William and Fillmore on Buffalo’s East Side spilling fuel and requiring that local residents be evacuated. While it is not confirmed exactly what type of cars were involved in this crash, the incident demonstrates that such derailments are relatively common and can seriously threaten homes and businesses in communities along the rail lines.

Therefore, Schumer is urging the federal Dept. of Transportation to issue a requirement during the regulatory process later this year to either retrofit or phase out the DOT-111 cars entirely. DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112 which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pile-ups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. The FRA and PHMSA would carry out the new plan, and Schumer also wrote the Association of American Railroads, the industry’s trade association, to urge their cooperation in retrofitting or phasing-out the DOT-111.  What’s more, in a personal meeting with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Schumer pressed him on including a phase-out or retrofit plan in the expected rulemaking process this year.

This year, there will be more trains carrying crude across North America than ever before: nearly 1,400 carloads a day. In 2009, there were just 31 carloads a day. Erie County, Buffalo specifically, sees between 100 to 200 DOT-111 cars carrying crude oil a day, and between 80-100 cars carrying ethanol a day, according to industry experts. The CSX line, which moves freight rail carrying crude oil from extractors in the Midwest to refineries on the East Coast, pass through cities and towns like Dunkirk, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Selkirk, and through Greene, Ulster, Rockland and Orange Counties.

Schumer explained that the increased movement of crude along the CSX lines in Western New York was of benefit to the regional and state economy, but that the risk of a catastrophe like Lac-Megantic must be minimized. The NTSB report and a history of evidence linking the DOT-111 tanks cars to structural failure during derailments led Schumer to push for the new DOT requirement, which would make freight rail safer throughout New York and the country.

A copy of Senator Schumer's letter to the FRA and PHSMA appears below: 


Dear Administrator Szabo and Administrator Quarterman, 

I write to urge that you include a plan to retrofit or phase-out existing DOT-111 tank cars used to transport crude oil or fuel ethanol in your proposed rule to establish new standards for the safe transportation of crude oil and fuel ethanol (RIN 2137-AE85). A recent tragedy in the town of Lac-Megantic, near Montreal, Canada where a train derailed and killed 47 people and incinerated over 30 buildings in the town’s center shows the need for stronger rail cars and improved safety standards. The flaws in DOT-111 cars, which represent 69% of the national tank fleet carrying crude oil and ethanol, are well known and the NTSB has noted that “DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents". We have known about these DOT-111 tank car flaws for a very long time, and the PHMSA and FRA must act on the NTSB’s March 2012 recommendations in order to prevent another derailment that could lead to another explosion or fire which could unnecessarily endanger lives and cause significant environmental damage.

In the first half of this year, U.S. railroads moved 178,000 carloads of crude oil. That’s double the number of the same period last year and 3 times more than the same period of 2009. Rail shipments from the Bakken region of North Dakota alone have increased from 500 carloads to more than 13,000 carloads, and volume is expected to grow to 70,000 annually. There will also be an increasing need for tank cars to transport fuel ethanol due to the mandated tripling of the amount of ethanol blended into the nation’s fuel supply by 2022. This boom in transportation of energy by rail can have a positive economic impact, but it also must bring increased scrutiny and meaningful improvements in rail car safety to prevent failures during a derailment. 

The NTSB investigation into a number of incidents involving DOT-111 cars, which were also those in service in the recent Lac-Megantic derailment, has revealed that when trains do derail these cars fail at a high rate. In 2009, a train carrying 2 million gallons of ethanol through Cherry Valley, Illinois derailed. Of the 15 cars that piled up, 13 failed and caused a highly dangerous fire and loss of life. Prior to that, a 2006 derailment and fire in New Brighton, Pennsylvania showed that 20 of 23 derailed DOT-111 tank cars released ethanol. The NTSB’s investigation into the Cherry Valley derailment found that DOT-111 cars have a high incident of failure during accidents. 

DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112 which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pile-ups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. The NTSB concluded that if enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems and increased shell thickness had been features of the DOT-11 cars involved in the Cherry Valley accident, the release of hazardous materials likely would have been significantly reduced, mitigating the severity of the accident. I believe the same could be said of the DOT-111 cars involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster. 

In a March 2, 2012 letter you received from NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman made the following recommendations to the PHMSA: 

- Require that existing general service tank cars authorized for transportation of denatured fuel ethanol and crude oil have enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems and top fittings protection that exceed existing design requirements for DOT-111 tank cars. 
- Require that all bottom outlet valves used on existing non-pressure tank cars (DOT-111 cars are not pressurized) are designed to remain closed during accidents in which the valve and operating handle are subjected to impact forces. 
- Require that all existing tank cars authorized for transportation of hazardous materials have center sill or draft sill attachment designs that conform to the revised American Association of Railroads’ design requirements adopted as a result of safety recommendation R-12-9. (R-12-7). 

While industry and the PHMSA have made very positive progress with regard to new tank cars, it has not included retrofits to existing cars or a phase out plan for those in service in its rulemaking. The boom in transportation of crude oil and ethanol by oil can certainly bring economic benefits to communities, but such a substantial increase in the transportation of hazardous materials must also include meaningful safety improvements. I ask that in your proposed rule, you move to include NTSB Administrator Hersman’s recommendations. Thank you for your attention to this matter and all of the work you do in ensuring the safe transportation of goods through rail in this country. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or my staff. 


Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator 




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