The Dot-111 car, recognized by most for its soda can shape is one of the most commonly used rail tankers used for transporting hazardous gases such as ethanol and crude oil. Railroad transportation is one of the safest ways to transport these hazardous chemicals. However, these tankers and have been riding our rails for over twenty years with known design flaws that can cause the car to tear open if it is involved in an accident. The steel used to make the tanker is too thin to resist punctures if the car is involved in an accident. Also, the ends are vulnerable to tears from couplers that can fly up after ripping off between cars, and exposed fittings such as unloading valves on the top of the tanker can easily break if the tank is rolled over during a collision.
Two people have been killed and dozens have been injured since the discovery of the design flaw.
The rail and chemical industries took a step in the right direction when they began manufacturing all cars after October 2011 that will be used to transport ethanol and crude oil with thicker shells and shields to prevent punctures.
The National Transportation Safety Board wants to take it a step further. In March 2012, the Board asked that higher standards be applied to all tankers: Not just new ones. That means updating the standards of the 40,000 tankers that are already in use. They would either need to be retrofitted with the updated standards or get phased out. The rail and chemical industries have yet to act on these unfit tankers. Retrofitting all of the existing tankers could end up costing ethanol makers $1 billion.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will have final word on the fate of the flawed oil tankers, but it could be years before a regulation is passed.