Ethanol Tankers Have Dangerous Flaw
by Jason Keyser (Associated Press/St. Louis Post Dispatch) For two decades, one of the most commonly used types of rail tanker has been allowed to haul hazardous liquids from coast to coast even though transportation officials were aware of a dangerous design flaw that almost guarantees the car will tear open in an accident, potentially spilling cargo that could catch fire, explode or contaminate the environment.
The rail and chemical industries have committed to a safer design for new tankers but are pressing regulators not to require modifications to tens of thousands of current cars.
The pressure comes despite a spike in the number of accidents as more tankers are put into service to accommodate soaring demand for ethanol, the highly flammable corn-based fuel usually transported by rail.
…Some towns with busy railways are beginning to regard the tankers as a serious threat to public safety.
…The tanker itself is not suspected of causing derailments, but the National Transportation Safety Board has noted several worrisome problems: Its steel shell is too thin to resist puncture in accidents. The ends are especially vulnerable to tears from couplers that can fly up after ripping off between cars. And unloading valves and other exposed fittings on the tops of tankers can also break during rollovers.
The flaws were noted as far back as a 1991 safety study.
…The number of severe crashes is small considering the total mileage covered by the many tankers in service, and the rail industry’s safety record on shipments of hazardous materials is strong. More than 99 percent of hazmat rail shipments arrive safely at their destinations. READ MORE