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Hazardous local train cargo

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"Upon information derived from recent railroad accidents and subsequent DOT investigations, the Secretary of Transportation has found that an unsafe condition or an unsafe practice is causing or otherwise constitutes an imminent hazard to the safe transportation of hazardous materials," the DOT said in issuing the emergency order. "Specifically, a pattern of releases and fires involving petroleum crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken and being transported by rail constitute an imminent hazard."

In addition to the emergency order, the FRA and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on May 7 issued a joint safety advisory to the rail industry regarding tank cars.

"The safety of our nation's railroad system, and the people who live along the rail corridors, is of paramount concern," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in issuing the order and related advisory. "All options are on the table when it comes to improving the safe transportation of crude oil, and today's actions, the latest in a series that make up an expansive strategy, will ensure that communities are more informed and that companies are using the strongest possible tank cars."

The order comes on the heels of an April 30 train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia that resulted in a massive crude oil fire and an unknown amount of oil being spilled into the James River. The 105-car train was stocked with Bakken oil when it derailed, sending more than a dozen tanker cars near the front of the train off of the track. Some of the derailed cars were DOT-111, a type of tanker car that has been fingered by federal transportation officials for years as a problematic rail car.

"Investigation determined that DOT-111 tank cars have poor performance in crashes," investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board stated in an accident report regarding an Oct. 7, 2011 crash in Tiskilwa, Illinois. "The poor performance of DOT-111 general specification tank cars in derailments suggests that DOT-111 tank cars are inadequately designed to prevent punctures and breaches and that catastrophic release of hazardous materials can be expected when derailments involve DOT-111."

The Tiskilwa derailment involved nine ethanol cars, three of which failed during the fire and erupted into massive fireballs and led to temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees.

The NTSB also identified DOT-111 cars as being vulnerable to failure following a June 19, 2009 derailment that resulted in an ethanol fire. The fire, which occurred near a road crossing, caught several cars on fire that were stopped at the railway crossing gates, killing the occupant of one vehicle and injuring several others.

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