NTSB heads warns of 'higher body count' without rail tank car changes

April 23, 2014 (CHICAGO)

The risk is from crude oil tankers that can blow up in a derailment. And there have been many of them...prompting the nation's top transportation safety official to warn of a "higher body count" and greater accident risk if U.S. regulators delay protecting the public.

Those comments came at the end of a two day summit in Washington on rail transport of crude oil and ethanol.

This is the risk of delaying new federal standards for tank cars that haul oil and ethanol. Explosions, fires, death and destruction-just as the Canadians suffered last July. At that time 47 people were killed in Quebec when a tanker train derailed and blew up...ravaging a sizable swath of down Lac-Megantic.

Barrington president Karen Darch was at the Washington meeting that ended Wednesday...representing dozens of Chicago suburbs that have train tracks running right through them...and the tankers known at DOT-111's carrying crude oil rolling through town often several times a day.

As the I-Team reported last fall, NTSB investigators determined 20-years ago that the thin steel walls of the tankers were susceptible to rupture in an accident.

They recommended government action at the time but it was never taken.

On Wednesday in Canada, transportation officials did take emergency action.

Effective immediately, 5,000 older model DOT-111's will be pulled off the rails. An additional 65,000 more recent versions will have to be phased out or retro-fitted with stronger steel by May of 2017.

At that time, Canada will ban the outmoded, high-risk tankers from operating and from entering the country…a move that would seriously disrupt the heavy freight traffic from Chicago...if the U.S. is still lagging in its safety rulemaking.

Canada's transportation minister says she struck a balance between safety and the ability of rail operators to conform with new tanker rules. All sides were motivated by the public pressure that accompanies 47 deaths in a horrific accident. Here in the United States there has been no similar calamity-and no such regulations introduced...with the American oil and ethanol industries opposing retrofitting tankers because of cost.

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