Dangerous Railroad Cars and Ethanol: An Explosive Combination
Posted on September 24th, 2012 by Zane Cagle
As we have sought to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, ethanol has become the main fuel additive to make our oil reserves stretch further. The millions of miles of railroad tracks have become the most common method for moving this ethanol around the country. Living in Missouri and Illionis, we know we have many miles of railroad tracks that are used to transport ethanol throughout the Midwest. The most common railroad car used to transport this fuel is known as the DOT-111 and it may have design flaws which make them susceptible to catching fire during derailment. The tanker itself is not known for causing derailments but its steel shell is too thin to resist puncture in accidents. Since 1991, the railroad companies may have known about these design flaws, but have continued to use these cars, DOT-111, as it would be too expensive to retrofit or enhance the cars to fix the flaws. Shipping companies have voluntarily agreed to make cars produced after October, 2011 stronger, but many of the old cars still remain in use, making up 69% of the national tank car fleet.
The threat posed by the DOT-111 is vividly exemplified by a crash that occurred in Cherry Hill, IL on June 19, 2009, as reported by KATU. On that date, a train carrying ethanol derailed at a crossing at Mulford Road due to a washout on the tracks. People had to scramble from cars waiting at the crossing as flames climbed several hundred feet into the air. The flames burned so brightly that bystanders up to 20 miles away said the flames looked like a sunset. One person was killed attempting to run from her vehicle, an unborn baby was lost to an expectant mother, and nine other people were injured in the subsequent fire. In the NTSB accident report, one of the contributing factors of the fire was cited as the performance of the DOT-111’s tank car shells and fittings. Of the 15 cars
While the risk of train derailment is low, safety advocates worry that the increase in ethanol production combined with inadequate railroad cars will inevitably lead to more accidents like the above. In 2000, ethanol did not even make the top ten most commonly transported hazardous materials; now, it is number one. Production has quadrupled since 2000 and is only expected to rise. Advocates worry that if shipping companies continue using the DOT-111 to transport such a highly combustible liquid, lives will be unnecessarily lost.
Zane T. Cagle and Illinois personal injury attorneys at The Cagle Law Firm stand with the safety advocates who call for the train cars to be replaced with safer models. It seems very negligent that, for 20 years, these companies have known their cars were faulty, yet they continued to use old ones and, in fact, build new ones. Perhaps these shipping companies could have learned from the derailments in Crisfield, KS in1998, or Tamaroa, IL in 2003, or even a similar ethanol derailment in New Brighton, PA in 2006. In all three, the DOT-111 was breeched, released hazardous materials into the ground and air, and caught fire. The derailment in Cherry Hill, Illinois could have been significantly less damaging, had these companies simply retired these dangerous containers.
The Illinois FELA attorneys at The Cagle Law Firm find it disturbing when companies put profits over safety. We believe that corporations have a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to make sure they are treating the safety of the general public with the utmost concern. If you or a loved one has been injury through the negligence of a faulty product or through corporate negligence in Missouri, Illinois, or Kentucky, call Zane T. Cagle at 1.800.685.3302 today for a free consultation.