The Obama administration officially announced that it would delay by nearly a year a plan to increase safety standards for a common rail car, known as the DOT-111. The announcement this week comes soon after the rail car contributed to the recent deadly train derailment in Canada which led to 47 deaths.
The proposal was designed to fix a potentially dangerous design defect in the DOT-111 rail tanker, a car used to carry oil and other hazardous liquids. The rail cars have been found to split open during derailments and any other accident that cause the cars to come into contact with one another. The shells of the tankers are too thin at certain stress points and frequently rupture, leading to terrible explosions or fires when the hazardous substances inside the tankers are released. That’s precisely what took place during the Canadian crash last month. The train was carrying dozens of cars loaded with oil and when the derailment happened at least five exploded.
An investigation conducted by The Associated Press earlier this year found that the DOT-111 cars have been breached in at least 40 serious accidents since 2000. Though safety experts point out that the rail tanker itself is not believed to be the cause of the derailments, its design flaws can exponentially increase the damage that results from derailments.
Senator Charles Schumer has released a letter urging the Obama administration to either completely phase out the use of the rail cars or require them to be retrofitted to prevent explosions. Despite pressure from legislators and safety groups, the federal agency responsible for implementing the new safety rule, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, says that it will delay the new rules until sometime next year. The agency said that the delay was necessary so that it could coordinate with other agencies and outside groups who are resistant to changes concerning the DOT-111 rail cars. These groups have argued that changing the rail cars would be prohibitively expensive, costing the industry around $1 billion.
The industry also claims that a ruling by the federal government is unnecessary given that it has taken action to fix problems with the DOT-111s. Specifically, the railroad industry mentions how it voluntarily agreed to ensure that all DOT-111s ordered after October 2011 would comply with tougher safety requirements. Though this is a good first step, these voluntary actions will do nothing to fix the nearly 40,000 existing DOT-111s that are already in use.