The I-Team uncovered risk on the rails in our investigation two weeks ago: potentially explosive tankers carrying crude oil through the city and suburbs. Even though we discovered that the rail cars were deemed "inadequate" by federal investigators more than 20 years ago, tens of thousands of them continue to roll. Now, the I-Team updates with news that 20 years of fears may be coming to an end.
A few days after the I-Team reported risk on the rails, in western Alabama crude oil cars known as DOT-111's derailed and blew up.
"There have been many people saying for a long time that those cars should simply not be carrying the kinds of hazardous cargo that they are because they are rigid, they are prone to derail, they are prone to puncture," said Lloyd Burton, Ph. D., CU Denver, School of Public Affairs.
The crude oil tanker accident in Quebec last summer was the worst, as 47 people died.
The NTSB report on this derailment in Rockford noted the "inadequate design" of DOT-111 tank cars was the blame for "catastrophic loss of hazardous materials during the derailment."
The I-Team found that for decades, U.S. safety investigators found fault with these tank cars and recommended fixes to make them safer.
Barrington president Karen Darch is among those petitioning the government to safety retrofit older tank cars and testified at a public hearing in Washington in late August.
"Federal regulators really owed it to the folks of the country to look at this issue seriously and require a change," said Karen Darch, Barrington Village president.
On Thursday, those regulators have received this recommendation for a rail tanker phase-out from the Association of American Railroads: to aggressively phase out old cars; upgrade new cars even if they have the latest safety features; retrofit them with an outer steel jacket; thermal protection, shields and pressure relief valves.
The AAR position From organization president Ed Hamberger: "It's time for a thorough review of the U.S. tank car fleet that moves flammable liquids, particularly considering the recent increase in crude oil traffic."
Crude oil shipments by rail increased 44 percent in the last quarter.
There are 92,000 tank cars moving flammable liquids in the U.S., and you don't have to be stopped at many rail crossings in Chicago to see the tankers rolling past. The majority would have to be upgraded or scrapped. This is still far from imminent, though. The hazmat arm of the transportation department won't decide which changes to mandate until next year.
Association of American Railroads position paper, submitted to US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration