Why you should know about the DOT-111

The aging cylindrical rail cars are synonymous with rail disaster

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

The story
Watch a freight train lumber past a rail crossing and count the number of cars shaped as black, cylindrical tubes. Many of those particular cars are carrying petroleum, in some form, and plenty of them are fairly old and prone to rupture on derailment. They always seem to be among the wreckage at derailments across North America. They’ve become poster boys for rail disaster, having played such a devastating part in the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que. Needless to say, the tube cars are the subject of some debate.

The cars are known, technically, as the DOT-111. Earlier this week, a pair of aging DOT-111s lay beside a stretch of track in New Brunswick, among a pile of burning cars that forced the evacuation of 150 residents near the town of Plaster Rock. Nobody thinks it’s okay that these cars exploded, and that they’ve erupted at a handful of other derailments in just the past few months.

The plan is to retrofit the oldest DOT-111s, but thousands of the old cars keep on aging. Ask CN, and they’ll say the cars “should be phased out or retrofitted.” Ask the U.S. rail industry, and they’ll claim to have petitioned their own Department of Transportation several years ago, without any luck, t0 retrofit the cars. Even though new DOT-111s have been built according to a new code implemented by the Association of American Railroads, industry has apparently “resisted spending an estimated $1 billion to retrofit nearly 300,000 existing tank cars.” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is reportedly hounding industry to do more.

Meanwhile, as a semi-coherent debate rages, DOT-111s roll along, unabated, day after day.

The stat
19: The number of cars carrying liquefied petroleum gas that derailed in New Brunswick on Jan. 8, sparking a massive fireball

The quote
“We let the companies decide for themselves. We let them check themselves, regulate themselves and supervise themselves.” —NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, calling for enhanced measure to ensure safe transport of oil

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