Durbin: Fix suburban tank cars before accident happens

  • A CN train carrying hazmat travels through Barrington. Leaders from suburbs that CN trains travel through say they're worried about the safety of their towns and preventing disasters if a train derails.

    A CN train carrying hazmat travels through Barrington. Leaders from suburbs that CN trains travel through say they're worried about the safety of their towns and preventing disasters if a train derails. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, December 2014

  • Dick Durbin

    Dick Durbin

 
 
Updated 4/8/2015 6:41 PM

It's time to open a second front on derailments involving volatile crude oil, Sen. Dick Durbin and local leaders said Wednesday.

"We're finding more and more derailments, and that's scary, particularly when you get near urban communities," Durbin said at a meeting with mayors, police and firefighters in Barrington.

 

As the volume of freight trains carrying crude oil and ethanol spikes in the suburbs, federal regulators need to finalize new rules ordering retrofitting and replacement of older, accident-prone tank cars, officials said.

"Residents have homes that back up to the tracks -- it's a constant concern ... if there were to be a derailment with the kind of fires we've seen," Barrington Mayor Karen Darch said.

Prevention of an explosion could start at the source by reducing the volatility of Bakken crude oil before it's shipped from North Dakota, some lawmakers think. A Senate bill introduced in March calls for a national standard governing the volatility of crude oil, spot checks of vapor pressure in tank cars and fines for noncompliance.

"The contents of tank cars are critical. We have to ask if the contents need to be monitored more closely or changed," Durbin said.

Since Feb. 16, four derailments of trains carrying crude oil with subsequent fire balls have occurred in the United States and Canada. One involved tank cars on a BNSF train outside of Galena March 5.

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And despite a voluntary industry upgrade, 28 improved tank cars (CPC-1232) failed in those cases, the National Transportation Safety Board reported Monday. The NTSB wants tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol to have thermal protection systems that would prevent explosions and better pressure relief valves.

Barrington leaders said they are concerned about Canadian National Railway trains tying up crossings in town. Three of the four disasters occurred when trains were operating between 23 mph and 38 mph and CN trains travel in the mid-30 mph range in Barrington, Darch said.

"We've come to the conclusion that it's no longer a matter of if but a matter of when," Fire Chief James Arie said regarding a derailment.

But CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the railroad "is committed to running a safe railway and invests heavily to ensure a safe and fluid rail network." CN supports replacing older tank cars used for flammable liquids and backs improvements to new tank cars that go beyond the CPC-1232 design, he added.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Meanwhile, supplies of foam used to fight oil fires are "woefully short," said Wauconda Deputy Fire Chief Dave Dato, president of a northwest suburban mutual aid group.

Waldron said the agency has reached out to first responders in Barrington and elsewhere and sent firefighters to an emergency training facility in Colorado.

CN freight train volumes have quadrupled from five a day to 20 since 2008 when the railroad acquired the smaller EJ&E Railroad. Train lengths have grown from 2,600 feet to 6,800, Durbin said. The percent of CN trains carrying hazmat have grown from 4 percent to 8 percent.

Waldron said crude oil represents about 2 percent of CN carloads.

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