Optimizing the design of railway tank cars to minimize accident-caused releases

Barkan, C.P.L., S. Ukkusuri and S.T. Waller. 2007. Optimizing the design of railway tank cars to minimize accident-caused releases. Computers & Operations Research. 34: 1266-1286. doi:10.1016/j.cor.2005.06.002.


The design of vehicles transporting hazardous materials has important public safety and economic implications. Conventional wisdom among industry and government has held that a thicker tank on railroad tank cars and trucks reduces risk. However, a thicker tank increases vehicle weight and thus leads to an increase in the number of shipments required to transport the same amount of product and consequently greater exposure to accidents. In this research we develop a model that analyzes the tradeoff between increased damage resistance and greater exposure to accidents in which the objective function is minimization of the probability of release. The model accounts for the reduction in tank car release probability as a function of tank thickness, and the increased exposure to accidents that occurs due to the increased number of shipments needed for the heavier car. Three variables affecting this optimal thickness are considered in this paper: the volumetric capacity of the tank, the probability of release from other, non-tank sources, and the weight capacity of the car. Sensitivity analyses using the model indicate that for any particular configuration of tank car there is an optimal thickness. This optimal thickness is affected by several factors and there is no single optimum for all tank cars.