NTSB Issues Tank Car Placement Recommendation

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a recommendation that trains carrying DOT-111 rail tank cars with high hazard flammable commodities be accompanied by a minimum of five non-placarded cars between any locomotive or occupied equipment transporting hazardous materials, regardless of train length and consist

The recommendation stemmed from the Board’s investigation of derailments of high-hazard flammable trains in Kentucky and Texas.

The Kentucky derailment occurred Feb. 13 in Draffin, Kentucky, when a CSX ethanol unit train derailed three locomotives, one buffer car and four tank cars on a mountainside.

That train had one buffer car at the head of the consist and one at the end of the train, with 96 denatured ethanol tank cars following the head buffer car.

The NTSB found that least protective DOT-111 tank cars were placed in positions that increased the risk of derailment and breaking of the tank cars, resulting in the release of their hazardous materials content.

It also found that during the Draffin derailment the lead locomotives were separated from the hazardous materials tank cars by only one buffer car, which shortened the distance between the breached tank cars and the crew members, increasing the risk of injury or death.

Both derailments, the NTSB said, could have been less severe had the DOT-111 tank cars been placed in locations within the train where they were less likely to derail or to sustain accident damage.

This week’s NTSB report is the first time the safety agency has issued recommendations regarding the use of buffer cars to reduce the risks of hazardous materials to train crews.

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