A leaking oil train that traveled across Washington and Idaho in January had tank cars with flawed valves, which are also installed in thousands of other tank cars nationwide, federal investigators said.
The Federal Railroad Administration investigated the valves after a BNSF train hauling North Dakota crude oil to a Washington refinery had to have 14 cars with slow leaks removed from the 100-car train.
The first leak was discovered Jan. 12, when crew members spotted an oil sheen on the side of a single tank car at the Hauser refueling depot about 20 miles east of Spokane. An additional 13 tank cars were found to be leaking and were removed during stops in Vancouver and in Auburn, south of Seattle. Two more leaking cars were discovered after the train arrived at the Anacortes refinery.
Less than 25 gallons of crude oil was released through the valves on the top of the cars, according to BNSF Railway.
Another tank car with a leaking valve was discovered at a BNSF rail yard Jan. 15 in Denver. That car was carrying flammable mineral spirits.
The Federal Railroad Administration conducted tests on the valves sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining of Tennessee, concluding that a design flaw created problems with the seal. In late March, the agency issued a directive to tank car owners to replace the valves, which officials described as an “immediate safety issue.” The tank cars can’t be used until replacement valves are installed.
About 6,000 tank cars nationwide are equipped with the faulty valves, according to the Railroad Administration’s estimates.
The agency also directed tank car owners to replace two other McKenzie valves in use, which officials determined did not have federal approval for tank cars. More than 37,000 of the other valves were sold to tank car owners and repair facilities.
It’s not clear whether the task of replacing valves will create delays for shipments of crude oil or other hazardous materials. Both the American Association of Railroads and the American Petroleum Institute declined to comment on Friday. Jeff Prunty, McKenzie Valve’s general manager, said he didn’t know how long replacing the valves would take.
McKenzie Valve is an affiliate of Union Tank Car Co., which is owned by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. All of the leaking valves were detected on cars owned by Union Tank Car.
The issue of valve replacements has implications for oil shipments through Washington, said Jason Lewis, a transportation policy adviser for the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.
The leaking valves were on the newer CPC-1232 tank cars, which are built to higher safety standards than the older DOT-111 cars. Washington’s refineries voluntarily agreed to accept oil shipments only in the newer tank cars, Lewis said.
“Those are the safer tank cars on the road right now,” he said. “There may be a disruption in service as the valves are replaced.”
Lewis said the state’s hazardous materials inspector has been on the lookout for changes in oil shipments. So far, the inspector hasn’t noticed any older tank cars being used to ship oil, he said.
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