Sealing Shielding

NARs: More Shipments - Less Inspections

Tank Cars - North DakotaIn 2009 there was one safety inspector for every 500 carloads of crude oil. In 2013 there was one inspector for every 21,000 carloads. This is a concerning trend.

Since 2013, there have been eight tank car accidents killing 47 people and resulting in hundreds of evacuations. Approximately 1.2 million gallons of crude spilled on U.S. railroads, more than the previous four decades combined, of which all but 10,000 of those gallons originated in North Dakota.


Is the industry already doing its best?

Crude oil carloads, NARs, Injuries from NARs, FRA inspectors, PHSMA inspectors, New tank cars, American Railway Car Institute

The above table illustrates the phenomenal growth of oil by rail. A staggering 4000% increase in shipped car loads, fueled by new tank car construction that is forecast to average 25,000 new cars annually until 2020. The current backlog is 48,000, equating to a three year wait.

Despite the importance of ensuring safety, the infrastructure and resources to support this growth and provide oversight remains unchanged. In fact, the main regulatory body overseeing the transport of hazardous materials, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has no dedicated staff in North Dakota. Since 2008, it has employed 11 inspectors covering 11 states and only recently added another two to the central region. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has yet to add to its eight inspectors.


Is anyone interested in reducing NARs?

Rail shippers are only one part of the logistics equation. For example, an oil company whose expertise is drilling and refining may either own outright or lease tank cars and contract the loading services of a shipping company. Then there are the actual railway lines and locomotives that are operated by an entirely different company.

In some cases, the oil company dictates to the leasing and shipping companies what seals, procedures and other safety equipment to use. Sometimes it is the shipping company who decides, while other times it is the leasing company.

So what happens when there is an NAR? Is it the tank car owner’s fault, the shipper’s fault or the oil company’s fault? How does this system promote transparency or develop a more efficient market when there are historically a limited number of vendors?

There is no question that everyone is working to prevent accidents, but nature and its elements make this a difficult and cumbersome job to perform. What is needed is a better forum to share and promote safer, more efficient equipment and better procedures to mitigate this escalating problem. Currently, neither the industry nor government agencies are willing to test, evaluate and promote new ideas.



The United States is on course to becoming the largest oil producing nation. Even if the planned Keystone Pipeline does get the necessary approvals, the demand and need for oil-by-rail will continue to grow. Similarly, while the majority of recent accidents have been caused by derailments, it would be folly to believe that NARs are at a sustained level. More inspectors are going to find more incidences. Those additional fines are going to fund additional hires and so on.

Industry best practices are only as good as the equipment and tools available. That is why the Parker Manway Nozzle Gasket is one response to halt this growing trend. Not only does it immediately resolve 95% of all manway related NAR issues, which is almost 50% of all NARs, it also reduces loading times and costs by as much as 90%. For more information visit Parker ISS and watch a short video below.

  • February 2014: 18 of 21 cars derail in New Augusta, Michigan, no fire or explosion but the evacuation of about 50 people.
  • January 2014: 7 cars derail over the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia, the most densely populated area to witness a tank car accident to date.
  • January 2014: 17 of 122 cars derail in northwestern New Brunswick, resulting in a fire and the evacuation of about 150 people.
  • December 2013: 18 of 106 cars derail in southeastern North Dakota, resulting in fires and the evacuation of many residents of nearby Casselton.
  • November 2013: 25 of 90 cars, loaded in North Dakota, derail in Alabama, igniting fires.
  • October 2013: 13 cars (4 crude oil/ 9 liquefied petroleum gas) derail in Gainford, Alberta, sparking a huge fireball and evacuation of about 100 people.
  • September 2013: 17 cars derail near Landis, Saskatchewan, causing the oil to spill onto farmland.
  • July 2013: train derails killing 47 people and destroying dozens of buildings in Megantic, Quebec.


For more NARs related content, see the series of posts below:

Non-Accidental Releases (NAR's) in Railroad Tank Cars

NAR's: Where the Feds Are Focusing

Why 95% of Manway Nozzle Gaskets Fail

NAR's: How to Reduce Cost of Railway Shipping

Have a question about Parker products or services? We can help: Contact Us!

Comments for NARs: More Shipments - Less Inspections

Eugene Matzan
It is quite true that more traffic than ever before is moving by rail. This traffic is still growing and is a long way from peaking so the problems must be addressed and solved now. Inspectors have proved to be a highly unreliable inspection system. Automated inspection systems are needed that can 100% inspect cars and document their condition; there are systems available now that can do this.

Car owners should be responsible for maintaining their equipment. Railroads should be responsible for damage to this equipment under their care and custody. If the equipment is documented going out to be in good working order and is returned broken, the railroad that returns the equipment should be responsible for the repair. The excuse that the car is not damaged according to FRA regulations is like saying you are not responsible for denting a fender on a rented car if it passes an emission test.

There is a cause for all failures. Understand and control the cause and you will go a long way to eliminating accidents. Rails just don’t break; they are usually damaged or not maintained properly. Things like wheel flats, dragging brakes, and wheel hunting all contribute to track ware. Bad welds and degraded track also contribute to accidents.
Joe Connelly
There are more than 8 FRA Inspectors out there looking at Crude Oil. When I was a Supervisor there were never less than 8 inspectors in the region and there are 8 regions within FRA.

As for gaskets, you are correct, gaskets will fail...all gaskets will eventually fail but NARS, which could be caused by a gasket are more likely caused by loose valves, fittings and closures. This was my experience when I was a supervisor and tasked our inspectors to reduce NARS by 50%, long before it became the "in" thing to do. Over 3 years we reduced our NARS originating in our 8 state region by 80%. Gasket failures were in the minority and when a gasket problem was identified it was usually the total absence of the gasket.

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