February Luncheon Seminar – Oil Tank Car Unit Trains

The Chicago SFPE chapter meeting on February 5, 2015, was held at the William Tell Holiday Inn in Countryside, IL. The speaker was Timothy Buffum, an investigator with the US DOT 2.5.15Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, Central region. The meeting was originally planned for February 2, but the snowstorm forced cancellation and we were fortunate enough to quickly reschedule for this date. About 20 attended.

Tim gave an interesting presentation on the increasing use of oil tank car unit trains for transport of crude oil. The fracking industry has been responsible for this, as pipelines are not available as needed in key production areas. The concern has been for the high hazard potential of these unit trains, particularly with the low flash point crude from some of the Canadian areas; and the concern that many of these trains travel through the Chicago area. Several large incidents involving such trains have occurred in the last several years. Of particular note is the Lac-Maganti, Quebec incident (7/6/13), involving 74 tank cars derailed with 47 fatalities. However, the statistics indicate that while such unit train travel has increased, rail accidents have gone down 43%, and hazmat accidents have gone down 16%.

Industry actions to improve safety include speed restrictions, distributed power and operational constraints, rail inspection and maintenance, and emergency response assessment and training. Many regulatory alerts by the MSA and FRA have been issued with emergency orders and safety advisories. Proposed rulemaking is underway for new operational requirements, improved tank car standards (i.e. puncture resistance, thermal protection, etc.), braking improvements, speed restrictions for not meeting new requirements, sampling and testing of crude oil involved, etc.

A PowerPoint presentation is attached here.