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BNSF aims to buy 5,000 safer tank cars

Keywords: Tags  rail transport, rail accidents, tank cars, BNSF Railway Co., RFQ, request for bids, redesign, steel-intensive Dept. of Transportation

NEW YORK — BNSF Railway Co. "has issued a request to major railcar manufacturers to submit bids for the construction of 5,000 next-generation tank cars to be used for transporting crude oil," a company spokeswoman told AMM in an e-mail.

The new models will be outfitted with tank car body shell and head-ends made of 9/16-inch thick steel and 11-gauge steel jackets and full-height, 1/2-inch thick head shields, according to the e-mail.

"The current baseline DOT-111 tank car is constructed of 7/16-inch steel and typically does not include jacketing, top fittings protection, head shields and disconnectable bottom outlet valve operating mechanism," the spokeswoman said.

Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF’s request "represents a significant voluntary commitment that may help accelerate the transition to the next-generation tank car and provide tank car builders a head start on tank car design and production, even as the Department of Transportation, railroads and shippers continue to engage in the formal rulemaking process," the spokeswoman said.

Government agencies in the U.S. and Canada have proposed improvements in crude-oil rail car safety following several recent derailments and subsequent explosions (, Jan. 24), and rail roads have said they support the new standards (, Dec. 30).

"There’s a change in the requirements and they (railroads) all have to do it. If you want to stay in that business you have to have the proper cars," Chuck Bradford, principal of New York-based Metals Industry Advisory Group LLC, told AMM, adding that crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota has shown itself to be particularly volatile during rail transport, with a number of the recent accidents involving that form.

Bradford said the new generation of tank cars for crude oil transport weigh about 45 tonnes, with about 12 tonnes in the form of cast parts and the remainder comprised mostly of steel plate.

The spokeswoman declined to provide specifics on possible costs for the order or which manufacturers the request has been sent to, saying it was too early in the process.

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