Higher levels of US domestic oil production means that more crude oil is delivered by rail in old oil tankers. Government officials believe that this is a safety hazard that is contributing to a spike in train wrecks across the US.
Five major oil train derailments in the last five years all involved the old DOT-111 tanker. It has been in use for almost 50 years. Experts say that the tanker has many safety flaws….essentially making them the rail equivalent of the infamous Ford Pinto. The Pinto was well known in the 1970s for its tendency to explode during rear collisions.
Although there are many documented problems with the use of the DOT-111s, the rail industry still uses 200,000 of them. Eighty thousand are used to carry crude.
Even worse, the oil in these cars usually comes from North Dakota oil fields; oil from that region has a high amount of methane and propane, making it highly flammable.
Several rail accidents in recent years in Virginia, North Dakota, Illinois, Alabama and Canada show how dangerous moving oil by train can be. Yet, the US federal government has not ordered that the DOT-111 be taking out of service.
Rather, the Department of Transportation merely recommends that oil companies use the best cars they have available for such shipments. The government also put out a new emergency order that mandates railroads to tell state crisis managers of large Bakken crude shipments going through their regions.
Canada, which is moving a lot of tar sands oil, has ordered all DOT-111 cars off its railways in four years.
2013 was an especially bad year for rail accidents involving crude. More oil was spilled in 2013 than in 40 previous years combined, going back to 1971.