3 Railroad CEO’s quoted: faster trains ok

Repost from Wanderings

Railroad ‘Bomb Trains’: Speeding to Disaster

by Walter Brasch, Thursday, August 21, 2014

WANDERINGS

It’s 3 p.m., and you’re cruising down a rural road, doing about 50.

A quarter mile away is a sign, with flashing yellow lights, alerting you to slow down to 15. It’s a school zone.

But, you don’t see any children. Besides, you’re going to be late to your racquetball match. So, you just slide on past.

You’re an independent long-haul trucker. You get paid by the number of miles you drive. If you work just a couple of hours longer every day than the limits set by the federal government—and if you can drive 75 or 80 instead of 65, you can earn more income. You have your uppers and energy drinks, so you believe you should be able to work a couple of hours a day more than the regulations, and drive faster than established speed limits.     Now, let’s pretend you’re the CEO of a railroad. Your trains have been hauling 100 tanker cars of crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in Philadelphia and the Gulf Coast. That’s 100 tankers on each train. A mile long.

About 90 percent of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated a new design. The older cars are susceptible to leaks, explosions, and fires in derailments. But, because of intense lobbying by the railroads, they are still carrying oil.

Railroad derailments in the United States last year accounted for more than one million gallons of spilled oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data. The oil pollutes the ground and streams; the fires and explosions pollute the air.

Most of the derailments threatened public safety and led to evacuation of residential areas. One derailment led to the deaths of 47 persons, the destruction of a business district, and an estimated $2 billion for long-term pollution clean-up and rebuilding of homes and businesses. Three derailments, including one in a residential area of Philadelphia, occurred this past year in Pennsylvania.

The derailment and explosions of “bomb trains” became so severe that in May the Department of Transportation declared the movement by trains of crude oil  from North Dakota derived by the process known as fracking posed an “imminent hazard.”

The federal government wants to reduce the speed limit for those trains carrying highly toxic and explosive crude oil.

If you’re Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific (CP), you say you “don’t know of any incidents with crude that’s being caused by speed,” and then tell your investors, “We don’t get better with speed [reduction]. We get worse.”

If you’re Charles Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern, you agree completely with your colleague from CN, and say that a higher speed limit is safe.

If you’re Michael Ward, CEO of freight giant CSX, you say that lower speed limits “severely limit our ability to provide reliable freight service to our customers.”

You and your fellow CEOs have even had one dozen meetings with White House officials to explain why slower speeds are not in the nation’s best interest. You explain that your railroad should be allowed to determine the best speed for your trains.

Driving a car through a school zone, you don’t have the right to determine your best speed.

Driving a truck on interstate highways, you don’t have the right to determine your maximum speed.

But, if you’re a multi-billion dollar railroad industry, you think you have the right to set the rules.

[Dr. Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine writer and editor. He is the author of 20 books, most fusing historical and contemporary social issues. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]

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Chicago Area Mayors Meet with Feds, Call For Improved Safety Measures For Oil Trains

Repost from CBS2 Chicago

Mayors Call For Improved Safety Measures For Oil Trains

August 20, 2014
Firefighters douse a blaze after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac Megantic in Canada's Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire.  More than 40 people were killed as a result of the crash and fire. (Photo redit: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters douse a blaze after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac Megantic in Canada’s Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire. More than 40 people were killed as a result of the crash and fire. (Photo redit: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

CHICAGO (CBS) – Federal railroad officials got an earful Wednesday from the mayors of several Chicago area towns that have been affected by a growing number of increasingly long trains hauling crude oil and other volatile materials.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the mayors expressed concerns about traffic congestion and public safety from freight trains that they said have been getting longer and more dangerous, due to larger amounts of flammable crude oil they haul in outdated tanker cars.

The mayors spoke directly to Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo and Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott III, at a meeting arranged by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

The senator said approximately 25 percent of all freight train traffic travels through the Chicago area each day, including 40 trains hauling crude oil.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch said the village has seen a stark increase in the number of completely full freight trains hauling 100 or more carloads of crude oil or ethanol along the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway.

“Before, half of the community didn’t even know where the EJ&E Line was. There were a couple of trains at night. Now, several times a day, traffic – all traffic – comes to a halt as the train passes through town, and these can be hundred-car trains,” she said.

quebec derailment 1 Mayors Call For Improved Safety Measures For Oil Trains

 

Darch and other Chicago area mayors said their constituents have been plagued by frequent traffic jams caused by long trains rolling through the area, and are constantly worried that a fire or worse could erupt on old tankers carrying volatile liquids.

They mayors expressed concerns about a repeat of a July 2013 freight train derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed dozens of buildings when multiple tanker cars filled with crude oil caught fire and exploded.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said safe passage is mandatory.

“About a third of the rail accidents that do occur are related to failures of the rail infrastructure itself, and so our position is basically twofold: one, improve the tank cars and get rid of the ones that aren’t safe; and second, make the rails safe.”

Durbin said the issue requires some time to address.

“I’ve talked to the tank car manufacturers, and they understand that they have two responsibilities: build a safer car, but in the meantime retrofit existing cars,” he said.

The senator said there is no way to immediately and completely ban older style oil tanker cars, but said federal railroad officials are aware of the danger they pose, and that they must be upgraded or replaced as soon as possible.

Darch urged federal authorities to institute increased safety controls and reduced speed limits for even small trains hauling crude oil.

“A huge concern for us is what about all the trains that come through that have 19 cars or less of hazmat,” she said.

Federal railroad officials said proposed federal regulations would require increased testing to keep crude oil out of older style tankers. Railroads also would be required to notify local officials when crude oil trains will roll through, and impose a 40 mph speed limit on such trains.

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‘Weak safety culture’ faulted in fatal Quebec train derailment, fire

Repost from McClatchy DC
[Editor: This report by Curtis Tate is one of many reports on the Canadian investigation into the Lac-Megantic derailment and explosion.  See also Desmogblog on 'Cost cutting,' this CNN report, '18 Errors', and Business Week, 'Law Firms react.'  - RS]

‘Weak safety culture’ faulted in fatal Quebec train derailment, fire

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 19, 2014

Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic in Quebec, Canada. | TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD OF CANADA

— Canadian safety investigators on Tuesday blamed a “weak safety culture” and inadequate government oversight for a crude oil train derailment last year in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.

In its nearly 200-page report, issued more than 13 months after the deadly crash, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board identified 18 contributing factors.

“Take any one of them out of the equation,” said Wendy Tadros, the board’s chairman, “and the accident may not have happened.”

Among other factors, the investigation found that the train’s sole engineer failed to apply a sufficient number of handbrakes after parking the train on a descending grade several miles from Lac-Megantic, and leaving it unattended for the night.

The engineer applied handbrakes to the train’s five locomotives and two other cars, but investigators concluded that he did not set handbrakes on any of the train’s 72 tank cars loaded with 2 million gallons of Bakken crude oil.

Investigators said the engineer should have set at least 17 handbrakes. Instead, he relied on another braking system in the lead locomotive to hold the train in place. But after local residents reported a fire on the locomotive later that night, firefighters shut the locomotive off, following instructions given by another railroad employee.

Not long after, the train began its runaway descent, reaching a top speed of 65 mph. The train derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic at a point where the maximum allowable speed was 15 mph.

Investigators said that the derailment caused 59 of the 63 tank cars that derailed to puncture, releasing 1.6 million gallons of flammable crude oil into the town, much of which burned. In addition to the 47 fatalities, 2,000 people were evacuated, and 40 buildings and 53 vehicles were destroyed.

The train’s engineer and two other railroad employees are set to go on trial next month. But Tadros noted that the investigation revealed “more than handbrakes, or what the engineer did or didn’t do.”

“Experience has taught us that even the most well-trained and motivated employees make mistakes,” she said.

The Quebec derailment set in motion regulatory changes on both sides of the border to improve the safety of trains carrying crude oil. Sixteen major derailments involving either crude oil or ethanol have occurred since 2006, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Tadros said the railroad relied on its employees to follow the rules and that regulators relied on the railroads to enforce their own rules. But she said that a complex system requires more attention to safety.

“It’s not enough for a company to have a safety management system on paper,” she said. “It has to work.”

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