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Mounting Safety Concerns Surround Common Train Tanker Cars

Trains are transporting more and more ethanol from heartland corn farms to far away markets. But after a catastrophic ethanol explosion this summer, major concerns are piling up regarding the type of train car used to transport the flammable substance.

The fire occurred in July after a train derailed. Of the 19 derailed cars, 13 spilled ethanol and fed a massive inferno that killed one woman and inflicted serious burn injuries on her family. A report pointed to a design defect in a common ethanol tanker car: the DOT-111.

DOT-111 tankers are very common on rail lines. As many as 45,000 DOT-111s are currently in service. However, several reports dating back to 1991 confirm that the tankers suffer from a serious design flaw. The metal skin is too thin to survive derailments, making the tankers prone to spilling their contents. In a derailment, impacts can easily punch through the metal. This is what happened in July's fatal ethanol derailment.

Although train and chemical companies agreed to redesign a safer tanker going forward, the current designs will apparently also remain in service indefinitely. This is dangerous because train companies frequently use the DOT-111s to ship explosive and flammable chemicals. Each car can hold 30,000 gallons of liquid. That much ethanol can fuel an enormously dangerous fire.

Source: My Fox Phoenix, "Common type of rail car has dangerous design flaw," Jason Keyser, Sept. 12, 2012

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