Today the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published Railworthiness Directive #1 identifying a series of unauthorized valves currently in use on a large number of railcars. The design of these valves leads to their leaking in service.
As a result of an investigation into 17 leaking crude oil tank cars on a BNSF train heading to Anacortes, Washington from the oil fields in North Dakota, the FRA has identified a family of ball valves (3”, 2” and 1” UNNR valves) produced by McKenzie Valve and Machining that are routinely damaged in normal use. Further investigation determined that the design of these valves had not actually been approved by the AAR Tank Car Committee as thought by McKenzie and UTLX, the tank car company who owns the cars where these valves have been found.
According to FRA’s investigation the valves are only damaged when installed with a plug the same size as the ball-valve. When a reducer is used instead, the valves appear to function as designed. With that in mind the FRA is requiring any tank car with the affected McKenzie valves installed with a full-size plug be immediately removed from hazmat service (loaded or residual). Because the valves, even with reducers, are not of approved design, the FRA is requiring the replacement of valves equipped with reducers. Tank car owners equipped with the 3” valves with reducers have until May 12th to replace them and until June 11th to replace the 1” and 2” valves equipped with reducers.
Even though the FRA has found at least one of the offending valves in other hazmat service, most of the leaking valves have been found on crude oil cars. Because of this I expect that this problem will be used to help call for further restrictions on the shipment of crude oil by rail.