What if we had fewer crude oil spills as a result of train derailments? Greenbrier Industries is designing a Tank Car of the Future to deal with the risks of transporting crude oil and other flammable freight by rail.
With the boom in North American exploration, shipments of crude oil by rail are thirty times what they were just five years ago. Unfortunately, derailments and subsequent spills have also increased. While 99.9977% of hazardous materials transported by rail make it to where they are going safely, several recent spectacular and fiery crashes have focused attention on the safety of rail transportation. Greenbrier Industries is anticipating stronger industry and government standards in response.
Senators John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, have urged Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to review crude oil transportation safety regulations.
The Association of American Railroads has put together a set of recommendations for new construction of rail cars meant for transportation of flammable materials. Tank cars should have outer steel jackets and shields to prevent punctures. High-flow capacity pressure relief valves would prevent explosions and shields to protect those valves would prevent damage during an accident.
Older tank cars would be required to be modified or retrofitted to comply with the new standards. Interestingly, there is a loophole in current regulations that allows lower safety standards for “combustible liquids”. The new standards would close that loophole by having the same safety standards for combustible liquids and flammable liquids.
Greenbrier’s Tank Car of the Future would exceed these recommendations. It would include thicker heads, redesigned top and bottom valves, shields, and bigger welds for thicker tanks. The company estimates they could have the first tank cars built in the next year and up to three thousand of the new design constructed annually in North America.
While many environmentalists are adamently opposed to projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline, the question of how to safely transport oil from half a continent away still needs an answer. Could these stronger oil tankers convince some skeptics?