A train with 102 cars of crude oil from North Dakota derailed when leaving Seattle last week, heading to a Washington refinery. A locomotive, a car loaded with sand and three oil tanker cars left the track but did not roll over. The incident occurred when the locomotive pulled out of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) yard, traveling approximately 5 mph.

“A BNSF spokesman said the derailed oil cars were newer models with enhanced safety features to safeguard against spills. Engineers inspected the tankers and found no leaks. No one was injured in the accident and a railroad hazardous material crew was on the scene in 5 minutes, he said,” according to an Associated Press report.“The Seattle Fire Department responded but left when it determined there was no spill, said spokesman Kyle Moore.”

With North Dakota already producing 1 MMBOD and analysts predicting Bakken output to reach 1.5 MMBOD in the next few years, rail transport of crude oil is expected to accelerate along with production.

New Design/Speed/Braking Requirements

In the wake of a number of 2013 train derailments, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed new regulations to enhance safety of upcoming oil and ethanol shipments. The Marwood Group’s energy research unit summarized some of the proposed new requirements as follows:

Tank Car Design and Thickness

“The new rules would apply to all trains containing at least 20 tank cars if one or more of those cars contained crude or ethanol. DOT is recommending an upgrade of the shell thickness to 9/16 inch from the current 7/16 inch standard. DOT pointed out in the proposed rule that 9/16 inch shells were more puncture resistant during rollover accidents than 7/16” shells.

Speed Restrictions

“The greatest impact would stem from speed restrictions placed on oil trains (now called High Hazard Flammable Trains: HHFT) with [older] cars that are not in compliance. The proposal sets a new maximum speed of 50 mph for all HHFTs … DOT is taking comment on … lowering the limit to 30 mph under certain circumstances.

Enhanced Braking Requirements

“End‐of‐train devices (EOTs) and distributed power, which is when locomotives are placed somewhere in the middle of the train as opposed to just at the front, are two already commonly employed enhanced braking systems. By October 1st, 2015 all HHFTs must be equipped with an EOT. By that date new tank cars must be equipped with electronic controlled pneumatic brakes (ECP) and all trains consisting of all new cars must utilize ECP brakes. By October 1st, 2016, all HHFTs must utilize either ECP or distributed power. Non‐compliance would result in a speed restriction of 30 MPH.”

To review the DOT’s proposed rules concerning oil train safety enhancements, please click here.

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