Lac-Megantic: derailed DOT-111 rail cars investigated long before disaster
by Dan Ilika
Potential for puncturing, unprotected top fittings documented before deadly incident
TORONTO—Documented design flaws in the tanker cars involved in the deadly rail incident in Lac-Megantic, Que., that has left more than a dozen dead continue to dominate the spotlight as the investigation continues.
A 2012 report from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows the DOT-111 tank car, which makes up a vast majority of Canadian and American tanker fleets, has been raising red flags long before the fatal derailment took place in the eastern Quebec town.
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) Railway train was hauling 72 DOT-111—also known as the CTC-111A—tankers when it rolled down a 1.2 per cent grade into the centre of Lac-Megantic, derailing and bursting into flames just after 1 a.m. July 6.
While reports surfaced in the days following the incident of the potential for puncturing during accidents aboard DOT-111 tankers, the report from the NTSB also notes the housing around the car’s top fittings are not effective in preventing impact damage.
According to the NTSB—an independent U.S. federal agency—there have been at least five investigations into safety of the tanker cars, including accident investigations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) ordered all DOT-111 cars built after Oct. 1, 2011, to include increased head and shell thickness, normalized steel, a half-inch thick head shield and top fitting protection.
But the NTSB report notes that cars built prior to Oct. 1, 2011, do not meet the new standards, and the safety benefits of the new cars are “not realized if old and new tank cars are commingled.”
In fact, the NTSB experienced a great deal of resistance when it pushed for retrofitting, according to a Reuters report, with the same AAR claiming it would cost more than $1-billion to retrofit existing DOT-111s.
It is not yet known which company manufactured the 131,000-litre cars involved in the Lac-Megantic incident, or whether they were built before or after the AAR order, or if the cars were a combination of both.
According to online brokerage Kapitall, Inc., at least three publicly-listed firms manufacture tank cars: Greenbrier Companies; American Railcar Industries, Inc.; and FreightCar America Inc.
Greenbrier has two manufacturing locations in Mexico, while American Railcar has two operations in Arkansas, and FreightCar America has production facilities in Alabama, Virginia and Illinois.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it has a team of 14 experts on the ground in Lac-Megantic investigating the incident.