Adoption of tank cars to meet new safety standards continues to rise across the industry, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2019, DOT-117 tank cars represented nearly half of the fleet carrying Class III flammables, rapidly progressing a trend since new legislation was passed in 2015.
According to a 2020 study from the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 53,561 of the 112,685 total tank cars (48%) used to transport Class III flammables in 2019 were DOT-117 tank cars. Of those 53,561 DOT-117 tanks, 25,300 (47%) were new tank cars and 28,261 (53%) were retrofitted DOT-117R tank cars.
These numbers keep up the steady progression to meet the 2029 FAST Act deadline for Class III flammables to transition to DOT-117 tanks. In 2015, only 2% of tank cars were DOT-117. Two years later, the number increased to 27% before rising to around 33% in 2018.
According to the report, it was predicted that 7,938 more DOT-117 tank cars – 3,588 new and 4,350 retrofit – would be added to the national fleet in 2020, although those estimates were collected during the pandemic.
What makes DOT-117 tank cars different?
Compared to DOT-111 tank cars, DOT-117 tanks feature a thicker tank wall with insulation, puncture protection, a full head shield, and top and bottom valve fitting protections. Those top and bottom valves are used to fill and empty the tank and must be protected against shearing off in a derailment and releasing flammable liquids.
Standard DOT-117 tanks cars are very similar to DOT-117R tanks cars but have a slightly thicker tank shell – resulting in a slightly increased combined head and shell thickness to better protect the DOT-117 from impacts.
DOT-117 cars are also preferred by many of the class I railroads over DOT-117R cars.
All DOT-117 tank cars were built to the technical and safety specifications finalized in the 2015 FAST Act federal regulations.
Reason for the mandatory switch to DOT-117
Partly in response to a catastrophic derailment in Quebec in 2013, United States and Canadian governments reexamined the safety standards for Class III flammables in 2015. The result included the FAST Act, which required the phasing out of tank cars built to lower safety standards and prohibiting the transportation of Class III flammables with DOT-111 tanks by 2029.
That included that petroleum crude oil must be carried in DOT-117 tank cars by 2025. In fact, there were no more DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil by 2018.
Class III flammables include commodities such as petroleum crude oil, ethanol, refined petroleum products, chemicals and other flammable liquids. It also includes “multiple service” tank cars, which include cars that carry different types of flammable liquids each year and are cleaned out between services.
Navigating the switch to DOT-117 tank cars
As more and more companies look to make the switch to DOT-117 tank cars, Mitsui Rail Capital provides lease options for these tanks – available in capacities of 25,500, 28,800 and 30,500 gallons.
Our DOT-117 tank cars are typically used in flammable chemical, refined fuels, and crude oil services. All cars have the latest design with exterior jackets, thermal protection and detachable outlet valve handles to meet all regulatory requirements for flammable service.
Particularly because of the economic disruption from the pandemic, this is an opportunity for Class III flammables to take advantage of the market and get upgraded cars at discounted rates.