Norfolk Southern Railway is suing a company that manufactures railroad ties because it didn’t use the right protective coating for the ties, and now Norfolk Southern will need to replace more than 4.7 million of these to avoid accidents, including oil by rail accidents.
The Alabama tie manufacturer, Boatright Railroad Products, allegedly used motor oil, anti-freeze, paint and several other substances to coat the ties, instead of creosote, which is normally used for protective coating of railroad ties. The problem is that these compounds do not protect the wood, allowing it to decay faster than it would otherwise, increasing the risk of accidents.
The lawsuit should bring attention to the risk inherent in the transportation of crude oil by rail, as Norfolk Southern knows from its own painful experience: last year, the company was fined by the Virginian environmental watchdog for an oil spill that resulted from a collision of two trains. The collision derailed both locomotives and at least five cars, one of which was a tank carrying 23,500 gallons of oil. More than 17,000 gallons were spilled.
Transporting oil by rail is becoming increasingly popular as opposition against new pipeline projects intensifies and oil producers seek alternatives. However, it is not becoming safer, as a recent report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has found.
According to the BTS, only 9 percent of tank cars that transport flammable liquids are compliant with the stricter safety requirements approved two years ago. The majority of the tank car fleet used to carry oil and fuels was still of the more accident-prone, thinner-shelled DOT-111 type. What’s more, the report found, the rail car fleet for flammable liquids will only meet these stricter requirements in 2029.
Railway transportation of crude oil is riskier than pipeline transportation and more expensive for producers, but they have had to resort to it because of the shortage of pipeline capacity. In fact, railway shipments of oil could increase in the future.