Safer train cars credited for preventing catastrophe in Raymond derailment

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Enhanced safety measures on tanker cars are being credited with preventing a massive explosion after a train derailment in central Minnesota

Nearly two dozen cars, most carrying ethanol, went off the rails in Raymond early Thursday morning. No one was injured.

Hours after the derailment, Gov. Tim Walz stood side-by-side with BNSF executives touting the more insulated cars, known as DOT-117Js.

“I hope you know that the safeguards put in place, the regulations, the things the railroad does, is to make sure they don’t explode,” Walz said during a press conference.

The new cars are reinforced with thicker steel and have relief valves. The design is meant to prevent or limit spills from dangerous cargo like ethanol.

Federal regulators are requiring the new model of tanker cars to be on all rail lines by May 1. Railroads are on track to meet that deadline, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. 

In a report to Congress last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation said more than 8,000 of these safer cars were manufactured in 2022.

In 2015, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS profiled the new tanker cars while they were being manufactured at a railyard in Texas, shortly after the added regulations were announced. 

While the cars were not required to be rolled out until this year, BNSF instituted a more aggressive timeline to get them on the tracks.

“We work very hard on prevention of these types of incidents at BNSF,” the company’s CEO and President Katie Farmer said. “We work on mitigation. These were the safest tank cars.”