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Text: David Thomas railway Age
Transport Canada’s selection March 11, 2015 of new tank car specifications is surely a harbinger of the choice the White House will make later this spring from among the options proposed by U.S. rail and hazmat regulators.
The clue is in Transport Minister Lisa Raitt’s revelation that Canada could not secure U.S. support for advanced braking systems for oil trains—a clear inference that agreement has been reached on the other specifications for a future TC/DOT-117 tank car.
Sticking a “TC” in front of the U.S. “DOT-117″ designation makes it pretty certain that Canada has been advised that the White House has made up its mind on 9/16-inch-thick hulls, full head shields, thermal insulation, and enhanced rollover protection for top fittings. This was the option preferred by the Association of American Railroads, which naturally welcomed the Canadian decision as the benchmark for a necessarily common North American standard.
However, Canada’s May 2017 deadline for getting DOT-111s out of crude oil service effectively scuttles the U.S. regulators’ strategy of shuffling the oldest cars to Alberta tar sands service as new cars come on stream.
The rule package proposed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) anticipates DOT-111s remaining in crude oil service until October 2020: “. . . some DOT(-111) Unjacketed and CPC 1232 Unjacketed cars (about 8,000 cars) will be transferred to Alberta, Canada tar sands services. No existing tank cars will be forced into early retirement.”
The two recent Ontario explosions of CN unit trains hauling Alberta tar sands crude had already exposed PHMSA’s incomprehensible misunderstanding of bitumen blended for transport. (“Dilbit” is bitumen diluted with naptha or other liquid petroleum gases to make it flow; “synbit” is partially refined bitumen intentionally boosted with highly explosive hydrogen gas.)