Senator Schumer proposes speedier phase-out of DOT-111 tanker cars

Repost from The Buffalo News

Rail cars through Buffalo post risk that Schumer seeks to end

Schumer proposes speedier phase-out

Crews work on some overturned crude oil cars in the CSX yard in Cheektowaga on Dec. 10. The accident did not cause a spill.

Crews work on some overturned crude oil cars in the CSX yard in Cheektowaga on Dec. 10. The accident did not cause a spill. Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

By Jerry Zremski | News Washington Bureau Chief
February 26, 2014 – 8:14 PM, updated February 27, 2014

WASHINGTON – A hundred tanker cars long, one or two crude oil trains from out west roll through Buffalo every day, along with a train carrying 81 tanker cars of ethanol.

And it all sounds pretty risky to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who proposed Wednesday that in densely populated New York, the rail industry speed up the phase-out of the most dangerous kind of crude oil rail tanker cars: the type involved in a deadly derailment in Quebec last year and a much less disastrous one in Cheektowaga last December.

Schumer’s suggestion won the support of Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Mary Holtz, who said people in the town were shaken up by the Dec. 10 derailment even though it caused no spills or injuries.

“We have a lot of houses that are very close to the railroad tracks, so if anything happens here, we’re going to blow up,” Holtz said.

That’s exactly what happened in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last July 6, when a train carrying crude oil derailed. Several tanker cars exploded, 47 people died, and half of the town’s downtown area was destroyed.

There are parallels between the tanker cars that blew up in Quebec and those that roll through Buffalo on a daily basis. They all carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale – the biggest American oil play in decades – to points east. And rail industry sources said most of the oil tanker cars that roll through Buffalo are the DOT-111 model, which is the very same model used on the train that derailed in Quebec.

DOT-111 tanker cars aren’t armored or pressurized, making them much more likely to puncture or explode than newer, more sophisticated models.

And while the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are drawing up new rules that will either eliminate the use of DOT-111s or require that they be retrofitted to meet new safety standards, Schumer said that private oil car leasing companies should draw up a plan by July 1 to phase out their use in New York.

“Transporting crude oil by rail in outdated tank cars – which have been proven to fail frequently upon derailment – is a ticking time bomb,” Schumer said.

Schumer’s statement follows a voluntary agreement struck last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Association of American Railroads that aims to make the rail transport of crude oil safer.

Part of that voluntary agreement calls for lowering the speed limit for oil trains passing through Buffalo and New York City from 50 mph to 40 mph. But Schumer said that speed limit should be enacted for trains passing through all heavily populated upstate areas.

In statements, CSX Corp. – which operates the trains that pass through Buffalo – and the Association of American Railroads stressed that they are taking steps to ensure that oil is being transported safely.

“The DOT-111 tank cars operating today are designed to meet current federal and regulatory requirements as well as industry standards,” CSX said. “The federal government establishes the minimum construction standards for the type of tank cars in which hazardous materials can be transported.”

Meanwhile, the Association of American Railroads said the industry was trying to assess how lower speed limits would affect railroad delivery times.

“In recognition of the significant growth in crude oil moving by rail, and community concerns such as those raised by Sen. Schumer, freight railroads were willing to quickly come together and identify the voluntary steps announced last week,” the rail industry group said.

“In fact, the agreement with DOT does contain a commitment to work with communities to find ways to address their individual concerns.”

The voluntary safety measures also include increased track inspections, better braking technology and safer routing for crude oil trains.

Those measures follow an astounding increase in the amount of crude oil shipped via rail since the beginning of the North Dakota oil boom.

Schumer noted that trains carried nearly 1,400 carloads of oil daily last year, compared with only 31 in 2009. And while CSX would not confirm the number of oil cars rolling through Buffalo, a source with the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Engineers Trainmen said one or two 100-car crude oil trains pass through the city daily, along with that train carrying ethanol.

The trains pass over the Fort-Erie/Buffalo rail bridge and then proceed eastward over tracks that parallel Broadway into Cheektowaga before moving on through Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Albany. There, they turn southward through New Jersey.

In addition to the spill-free Cheektowaga derailment last December, federal statistics show three small spills of about a gallon each from trains passing through Buffalo last year.

In addition, a minor ethanol leak occurred from a train passing through the area last July, said Kate Hudson, watershed program director at Riverkeeper Inc., a New York environmental group that has called for an immediate moratorium on rail shipments of crude oil in the state.

Those DOT-111 rail cars just aren’t safe, Hudson said, likening them to “a Pepsi can on wheels.”

Panel of Experts meeting in Martinez Feb. 26

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Download, print and distribute the FLYER

Big Oil Trains: Derailing Community Safety

A forum about increased rail accidents, refinery dangers, and climate change.
How will refinery expansions and transportation of crude oil by rail affect YOUR town?

A panel of experts and activists will inform residents of Benicia, Martinez, Rodeo, Crockett and Port Costa of Big Oil’s plans, both local and global.

Wednesday, Feb. 26th at 6:30 PM
Veterans War Memorial Building, 930 Ward Street, Martinez
(@ the corner of Ward and Court Streets)

Please join our panelists for presentations and Q & A:

  • Marilaine Savard: spokesperson for a citizens’ group in the region of Lac-Mégantic, Québec.  Last year, a string of exploding petroleum rail cars destroyed the center of the town and claimed 47 lives.
  • Antonia Juhasz: oil industry analyst, journalist, and author of “The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must do to Stop It” and “Black Tide: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill”.
  • Diane Bailey, senior scientist at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
  • Marilyn Bardet:  watchdog activist for the Valero refinery  and founding member of Benicia’s Good Neighbor Steering Committee.
  • Nancy Rieser: spokesperson, Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group, challenging Phillips 66 on its Propane Expansion Project.
  • Kalli Graham: spokesperson, Pittsburg Defense Council, fighting the proposed WesPac oil terminal.

Sponsored by:SunflowerAlliance_logoIn partnership with:
Sierra Club, 350 Bay Area, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, ForestEthics, Pittsburg Defense Council, Pittsburg Ethics Council, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group.

Download, print and distribute the FLYER

For those in other towns, we have related forums in Pittsburg and Richmond!  See

Another derailment 2/25, 95 miles north of NYC

Repost from the Poughkeepsie Journal

Engine of empty oil train derails near Kingston; no spill

Feb. 25, 2014 5:46 PM   |  Written by Khurram Saeed
The Journal News

TOWN OF ULSTER — A CSX locomotive hauling 97 empty oil tank cars from Philadelphia to Chicago derailed near Kingston Tuesday morning, raising fresh concerns about the safety of oil trains following several deadly derailments last year.

The oil train was traveling north on the River Line — the same 130-mile track that runs through Rockland — when it derailed about 9:30 a.m. in the town of Ulster, about 70 miles north of New City. None of the tank cars went off the tracks and there were no injuries or spills, police said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order demanding shippers of volatile Bakken crude oil make sure it’s properly tested and classified before it’s transported by rail. Shippers also have to move the oil in “more robust” tank cars effective immediately.

“Shipping crude oil — or any hazardous material — without proper testing and classification could result in material being shipped in containers that are not designed to safely store it, or could lead first responders to follow the wrong protocol when responding to a spill,” the DOT release stated.

The federal emergency order was the fourth issued by the DOT in the past seven months in response to recent derailments in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada involving the volatile crude oil.

Tuesday’s derailment involved one locomotive and one car carrying sand directly behind it, River Line owner and operator CSX said in a statement. They both went off the track but remained “upright and inline,” the company said.

Service was expected to resume on the line on Tuesday after crews rerailed the track, CSX said. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

There hasn’t been a major derailment of a CSX train in Rockland in a decade. Prior to that, there had been three in six years.

“We used to have a lot of those here,” said Gordon Wren, Rockland County’s Fire and Emergency Services coordinator. “We put a lot of pressure on CSX to improve the tracks.”

Now the River Line is inspected visually twice a week, plus several times a year by sophisticated equipment that can check the condition and the stability of the rail and track structure, CSX has said.

There has been increased scrutiny on oil shipped by train in recent months, especially in communities through which the trains travel. In a typical week, 14 oil trains — made up of 80 to 100 tank cars, each holding close to 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude — pass through Rockland, a recent Journal News story revealed.

“(Tuesday’s) freight train derailment in Kingston underscores the point: A new ‘virtual pipeline’ is carrying crude oil straight through the Hudson Valley and bringing with it a whole new level of risk to our safety and our environment,” the environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper posted on its website Tuesday.

The unit trains, as they are also known, travel between the Midwest to refineries along the East Coast. Last December, a 99-car oil train hit a car carrier truck at a crossing in West Nyack. The tank cars were empty and the train did not derail but the truck’s cab went up in flames.

The U.S. DOT and the Association of American Railroads, an industry group, last week struck a voluntary deal to improve oil train safety. New measures call for trains to slow down when traveling through major cities, increased track inspections and improved emergency response planning along routes that carry trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of oil each.

“It’s great they’ve reduced the speed going through cities and urban areas,” Wren said. “I think we should be included in that.”

Sen. Charles Schumer agrees. He will hold a press conference Wednesday to contend the safety initiatives don’t go far enough.

Railroads and federal officials plan to address separately a design flaw in tens of thousands of tank cars that make them prone to rupture during derailments. Unlike tank cars that transport dangerous materials, the DOT-111 cars are not pressurized and were not built to transport flammable liquids.

Nearly 70 percent of the tank cars used to move crude oil are DOT-111s. During the past three years, Association of American Railroads has twice proposed phasing out older DOT-111 cars while retrofitting others. Since October 2011, about 18,000 DOT-111 cars have been built with thicker steel shells and other stricter safety improvements.

Good investigative report: DOT issues new emergency order

Repost from ABC7 WLS Chicago

Government issues emergency order on dangerous DOT-111 crude oil tankers

By Chuck Goudie

February 25, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Four months after an I-Team investigation exposed dangerous freight train shipments of crude oil running through our area, the federal government issued an emergency order to start dealing with the threat.

Tuesday’s emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation calls crude oil tankers an “imminent hazard.” As the I-Team found months ago, the hazard has been imminent for a long time. Twenty years year ago, safety board inspectors determined that what are known as DOT-111 tank cars were subject to rupture in derailments. They ordered design changes and structural upgrades, but nothing was ever done. Federal regulators sat up and noticed after ten accidents in the past year.

After recent derailments and explosions in North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec, Canada, the Department of Transportation issued an emergency order Tuesday that says “in light of continued dangers associated with petroleum crude oil shipments by rail, actions described in this order are necessary to eliminate unsafe conditions and practices that create an imminent hazard to public health and safety and the environment.”

The order requires all crude oil be properly tested before being transported. And all crude that travels by rail must be carried in these DOT-111 tank cars.  The older DOT-111 tank cars were deemed inadequate by the National Transportation Board more than 20 years ago.

Since the I-Team first reported on the risk on the rails last October, an investigation dubbed “Operation Classification” revealed some crude from the Bakken region,  including the oil in the tragic Lac Megantic derailment, was misclassified.

What that means is that potentially explosive crude oil was being shipped in rail cars even less safe than the DOT-111’s.

The so-called misclassification has resulted in $93,000 in fines. Tuesday’s order stated “misclassification is one of the most dangerous mistakes to be made when dealing with hazardous materials.”

There is a meeting Wednesday in Washington with government officials, and rail and oil industry leaders to talk about what to do next. Suburban Chicago leaders who have been all over this problem are still hoping the government will require tanker cars to be fixed to make them less likely to puncture or explode if they derail.