BNSF Railway announced in February it is soliciting bids for the construction of 5,000 strengthened “Next Generation” tank cars to haul oil and ethanol.
Cars to be built are to exceed the stronger new standards the industry voluntarily adopted in October 2011 for the CPC-1232 jacketed tank car and will add new safety requirements. The tank car body shell and head ends will be built of thicker steel and, will have half-inch thick steel shields on either end to help prevent cracking during an accident. Cars also will have pressure-relief valves that could withstand an ethanol-based fire.
BNSF’s plans are a little unusual, because railroads don’t typically own tank cars.
“This BNSF tank car RFP represents a significant voluntary commitment that may help accelerate the transition to the Next Generation Tank Car and provide tank car builders a head start on tank car design and production, even as the Department of Transportation, railroads and shippers continue to engage in the formal rulemaking process,” the company said in a statement recently. “BNSF believes that the RFP process will provide market participants more certainty, sooner.”
The safety of rail transport of crude and natural gas has come under the microscope since last July. A Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Lawsuits have been filed against the Canadian government as well as the railroad, the company’s president, train operator and others. The MM&A filed for bankruptcy.
Policymakers and railroad officials have huddled since the first of the year to address growing concern over how to safely move crude oil by rail.
In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Association of the American Railroads (AAR) agreed to institute new voluntary operating practices for trains with 20 or more cars of crude oil.
Among the initiatives are increased track inspections, equipping trains with distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices, use of rail traffic routing technology and lower speeds.
By no later than July 1, railroads will operate trains that include at least one older DOT-111 car no faster than 40 miles per hour in the 46 federally designated high-threat urban areas. Until then, railroads will operate trains with 20 or more carloads of hazardous materials, including crude oil, at the industry self-imposed speed limit of 50 miles per hour.
Also, effective March 25, at least one additional internal-rail inspection will be performed each year above those required by new FRA regulations on main line routes over which trains moving crude oil travel. Railroads will conduct at least two high-tech track geometry inspections each year.
Railroads will also begin using the Rail Corridor Risk Management System (RCRMS) to aid in determining the safest and most secure rail routes.
In January, following derailments in North Dakota and Canada, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx challenged leaders from top rail industry organizations and CEOs of the nation’s largest railroads to analyze the routings of trains carrying crude oil to determine and then reduce any risks.
The meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the nation’s leading oil and natural gas producers, was sandwiched between two of the most recent derailments. About a week before, a Canadian National train hauling oil and natural gas derailed near a northwestern New Brunswick village. In mid-February, 21 cars of a 120-car Norfolk Southern train carrying heavy Canadian crude derailed and spilled 3,000-4,000 gallons in western Pennsylvania.
“The (rail) industry … can undertake preventative steps that will enhance the safety of these materials across the country,” Foxx said.
According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. crude oil production will reach 8.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 – up from just five million barrels per day in 2008.
U.S. freight railroads transported nearly 234,000 carloads of crude in 2012, up from 9,500 carloads in 2008. Early data suggest that rail carloads of crude surpassed 400,000 in 2013.
More on this story in the March/April issue of Cowcatcher Magazine.