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Rail agency alerts tank car owners to potential defects

WASHINGTON - The Federal Railroad Administration has identified potential flaws in some DOT-111 tank cars that carry crude oil and other hazardous liquids and is asking owners to take immediate action.

Oil tank cars are lined up at a crude oil rail loading terminal in Tioga, N.D., in 2014. Rail shipments of Bakken crude have since dropped dramatically. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Oil tank cars are lined up at a crude oil rail loading terminal in Tioga, N.D., in 2014. Rail shipments of Bakken crude have since dropped dramatically. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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WASHINGTON - The Federal Railroad Administration has identified potential flaws in some DOT-111 tank cars that carry crude oil and other hazardous liquids and is asking owners to take immediate action.

The FRA said it has identified potential defects in a small portion of the U.S. tank car fleet manufactured by American Railcar Industries and ACF Industries between 2009 and 2015 that could cause leaks of hazardous liquids.

The potential flaws are in the welds at the bottom of the tank car that don't meet federal safety regulations or industry specifications, the agency said.

The directive, issued Friday, Sept. 30, comes at a time when rail shipments of Bakken crude are dramatically down due to a slowdown in the oil industry, availability of pipelines and economic factors.

The directive from the FRA instructs tank car owners to immediately identify if they have any of these potentially flawed tank cars in their fleets and inspect and repair those tank cars if necessary, according to a blog post from FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg.

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The FRA estimates there are 14,800 DOT-111 cars that will be affected by the order. The agency is also considering enforcement action against the manufacturers, Feinberg wrote.

The potential flaw came to light in 2014 when Canadian Pacific Railway notified the FRA about a tank car that was leaking ethanol in a yard in Illinois, according to the FRA's directive.

The owner of the cars then voluntarily inspected 386 other tank cars in its fleet and identified that 15 percent had the same defects.

The agency is asking tank car owners to identify within 30 days whether they have any of these cars in their fleets and report those to the FRA.

Owners are required to visually inspect the tank cars to verify there are no visible leaks from the welds and confirm the tank car is safe for transportation. They're also required to ensure inspection and testing of the cars.

Rail shipments of Bakken crude were estimated at about 350,000 barrels per day in July compared to peak volumes of more than 750,000 barrels per day 2013 and 2014, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Older DOT-111 cars, considered to be the least crash resistant, are being phased out for shipping crude by 2018. The U.S. has a total of about 210,000 DOT-111 cars, the FRA estimates, but some ship non-hazardous liquids such as corn syrup.

Many older DOT-111 cars used for shipping crude are believed to be in storage. The FRA reports a 97 percent reduction between 2013 and the first quarter of 2016 in the number of DOT-111 tank cars making at least one shipment of crude oil.

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