January 5, 2021: NTSB Stresses Need for Increased Protection of High-Hazard Flammable Material Tankers

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has again issued a safety recommendation regarding the placement of DOT-111 tank cars in high-hazard flammable trains. The agency has also recommended the use of buffer cars as a method to protect the train crews.
NTSB’s recommendation would require all trains to have a minimum of five non-placarded cars between any locomotive or occupied equipment transporting hazardous materials regardless of the length or consist of the train.
The latest recommendations stem from two recent derailments of high-hazard flammable trains that led to breached tank cars and hazardous material fires.
The first derailment occurred in Draffin, Kentucky on February 13, 2020. That derailment involved a CSX train carrying ethanol that derailed three locomotives, one buffer car, and four tank cars. The high-hazard flammable 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 second derailment took place on April 24, 2019 in Fort Worth, Texas. That incident involved a Union Pacific train carrying denatured ethanol. Twenty-five tank cars derailed during that incident. The train consisted of three lead locomotives, two buffer cars, and 96 loaded tank cars.
In the safety recommendation report, the NTSB found that in both derailments, least-protective DOT-111 tank cars were placed in positions that increased the risk of derailment and breaching of the tank cars, resulting in release of their hazardous materials contents. In the Kentucky derailment, the lead locomotives were separated from the hazardous materials tank cars by only one buffer car. This shortened the distance between the breached tank cars and the crewmembers and increased the risk of injury or death.
The NTSB concluded that the severity of the Draffin and Fort Worth accidents 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.
Robert Hall, NTSB Director of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials, stated “This is not the first time NTSB has issued recommendations regarding the use of buffer cars to reduce the risks of hazardous materials release to train crews…We believe that it is imperative that these recommendations be implemented to prevent the potential for a catastrophic event.”
Upon completing its investigations, the NTSB issued one recommendation to the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the Renewable Fuels Association. It addresses the placement of the most vulnerable tank cars in high-hazard flammable trains, such as unmodified DOT-111 tank cars, in positions of trains where they are least likely to derail or to sustain mechanical damage from the effects of trailing tonnage or collision in an accident.

NTSB again stresses need for increased protection of high-hazard flammable material tankers, citing two recent derailments