Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to require shippers to retrofit or phase out a type of rail tank car that is widely used to transport crude oil and other hazardous liquids. The DOT-111 model car has been involved in a spate of fiery derailments over the past six months.
“There are serious safety concerns about the railcars that carry this oil and the risk they pose,” Schumer remarked at a press conference last week. The National Transportation Safety Board and other experts have concluded that DOT-111 tank cars are prone to “tears and spills,” he said.
Railroad industry trade groups have defended rail transport as safe, saying that more than 99% of all oil shipments are delivered without incident.
DOT issued a safety alert on Jan. 3 stating that the light, sweet crude from the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota “may be more flammable” than traditional heavy crudes because it contains more natural gas. The higher volatility of oil from North Dakota is a major concern because rail shipments of crude oil from North Dakota to New York and New Jersey have increased recently, Schumer explained. Also, the volume of oil from this region is expected to increase as refinery expansion projects are completed.
“If one of these cars were to fail, it could result in oil flooding into the Hudson River or Port of New York, sullying our waterways and gumming up our economy, or potentially even a major, deadly explosion,” Schumer said.