Older DOT-111s cannot freight crude oil to Port Westward, beginning next month

by: MARK MILLER - An older-model DOT-111 tanker car sits on the tracks in Portland. The car, along with another model built to improved design standards adopted in 2011, served as a demonstrator at a rail safety event in the Linnton neighborhood Tuesday, April 29.The Massachusetts-based energy company that owns the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery near Clatskanie announced Wednesday, April 30, that it will begin requiring all railcars freighting crude oil to the facility be built to modern design standards.

Beginning June 1, only railcars that meet standards adopted in October 2011 will be permitted to carry oil by rail to Global Partners LP terminals in Oregon and New York, according to a company release.

“Global is committed to safety, and as part of that commitment we have made the proactive decision to begin only accepting crude oil unit trains consisting entirely of CPC 1232-compliant cars,” said Eric Slifka, Global's president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “This initiative pertains to all crude oil rail cars received at the terminal, regardless of whether they are operated by a third party or leased by Global.”

The CPC-1232 set of standards were adopted about two and a half years ago. DOT-111 tanker cars — the most common railcar used to transport hazardous materials in the United States — built to the new standards feature partial “head shields” on each end of the car, fitting protections to prevent spills, and a 1/2-inch-thick steel shell, which is 1/16-inch thicker than those of “legacy” DOT-111s built before the 2011 design change.

Industry trade groups, such as the Association of American Railroads, are already calling on the federal government to adopt another new set of design standards for the DOT-111 class of cars. The proposed upgrades include another 1/16-inch increase in tanker shell thickness, full head shields and heat-resistant jacketing.

The draft design standards come in the wake of recent high-profile oil train disasters in both Canada and the United States, including a derailment and explosion in Quebec last July that left 47 dead and a fiery wreck that forced the evacuation of several buildings in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoon.

Despite the movement over the past few years toward more stringent standards, the so-called legacy cars still represent a large majority of DOT-111s in service in North America, according to the AAR.

The Canadian government decided last month to phase out old tanker cars deemed to be unsafe. Some 5,000 DOT-111s must be removed from service in Canada within 30 days, the country's transportation minister announced April 23.

The announcement by Global Wednesday comes amid public uneasiness in Columbia County over oil trains. The trains of DOT-111 cars pass through several communities along the Columbia River before arriving at Port Westward, the industrial park north of Clatskanie where the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery is sited, several times per week.

In an emailed statement Thursday, May 1, frequent oil train critic Annie Christensen of St. Helens called Global's announcement "clearly a step in the right direction," but maintained that freighting oil by rail is fundamentally unsafe.

"My concern is that these crude oil trains continue to derail and explode on a fairly regular basis," Christensen wrote. "The cause of these explosions is not the older, thinner walled rail cars. The cause is the fact that transporting a volatile material through populated areas by rail is dangerous."

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has accused Global of violating the terms of a state permit due to the volume of oil it has received at the facility, where it is transloaded onto oceangoing vessels for shipment. The company disputes the claim.

Global also operates a facility in Albany, New York, that receives oil by rail.

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