NTSB to Cantwell: Oil Train Crashes Raise Concerns Over Newer Tank Cars

At hearing, Senator asks NTSB chairman about safety of improved-design CPC-1232s after involvement in recent fiery derailments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to questions from U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said today his agency is continuing to review the safety of newer-model tank cars involved in a fiery derailment in West Virginia and other incidents around the country.

The cars in the West Virginia incident were unjacketed “CPC-1232s,” a model with improved safety features designed to have a stronger resistance to puncturing than older “DOT-111” cars.

“Do you believe that cars that are out there to replace the 111s aren’t really that great and that we need a thicker hull?” Cantwell asked during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.

“We’ve had several accidents recently involving the newer cars – the 1232 cars – including one in Canada,” said Christopher Hart, acting NTSB chairman. “We’re reviewing them closely to determine whether the additional robustness is actually producing a positive result in the real world.”

“We are seeing enough concerns like in Lynchburg -- the train was going less than 25 mph and still breached a 1232 car, so we have concerns and we are collecting evidence based on the accidents of those cars,” Hart said. “It’s a multi-faceted approach, including the thickness of the shell. We don’t specify the specific thickness -- we just say the robustness needs to be improved and also thermal protection so that a car won’t be engaged in – a fire from another car won’t cause other cars to explode.”

The hearing followed Cantwell’s announcement Tuesday that she plans to introduce legislation that would call for stronger safety regulations on the design of tank cars hauling flammable crude. Cantwell told U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that she didn’t think the Administration’s proposed rule on tank car standards under consideration would be strong enough and that legislation would be necessary to protect communities.

USDOT’s proposed rules would phase out, over the course of several years, the use of older “DOT-111” tank cars for the shipment of Bakken crude. The DOT-111 poses a higher safety risk than newer cars, whose hulls are less likely to puncture in the case of a derailment. About 80,000 of these older, less safe DOT-111’s are currently used to transport flammable liquids.