INSURANCE JOURNAL: Derailed Train in West Virginia Had Safer Tank Cars

Repost from Insurance Journal

Derailed Train in West Virginia Had Safer Tank Cars

By John Raby and Jonathan Mattise | February 26, 2015 

The fiery derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia earlier this month is one of three in the past year involving tank cars that already meet a higher safety standard than what federal law requires – leading some to suggest even tougher requirements that industry representatives say would be costly.

Hundreds of families were evacuated and nearby water treatment plants were temporarily shut down after cars derailed from a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude on Feb. 16, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning down a house nearby. It was snowing at the time, but it is not yet clear if weather was a factor.

The train’s tanks were a newer model – the 1232 –designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago. The same model spilled oil and caught fire in Timmins, Ontario this month, and last year in Lynchburg, Virginia.

A series of ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.

If approved, increased safety requirements now under White House review would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars being used to carry highly flammable liquids.

“This accident is another reminder of the need to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Oil industry officials had been opposed to further upgrading the 1232 cars because of costs. But late last year they changed their position and joined with the railway industry to support some upgrades, although they asked for time to make the improvements.

According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

The downside: trains hauling Bakken-region oil have been involved in major accidents in Virginia, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Alabama and Canada, where 47 people were killed by an explosive derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Reports of leaks and other oil releases from tank cars are up as well, from 12 in 2008 to 186 last year, according to Department of Transportation records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Just two days before the West Virginia wreck, 29 cars of a 100-car Canadian National Railway train carrying diluted bitumen crude derailed in a remote area 50 miles south of Timmins, Ontario, spilling oil and catching fire. That train was headed from Alberta to Eastern Canada.

The train that derailed in West Virginia was bound for an oil shipping depot in Yorktown, Virginia, along the same route where three tanker cars plunged into the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia, prompting an evacuation last year.

The train derailed near unincorporated Mount Carbon just after passing through Montgomery, a town of 1,946, on a stretch where the rails wind past businesses and homes crowded between the water and the steep, tree-covered hills. All but two of the train’s 109 cars were tank cars, and 26 of them left the tracks.

Fire crews had little choice but to let the tanks burn themselves out. Each carried up to 30,000 gallons of crude.

One person – the owner of the destroyed home – was treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, according to the train company, CSX. The two-person crew, an engineer and conductor, managed to decouple the train’s engines from the wreck behind it and walk away unharmed.

The NTSB said its investigators will compare this wreck to others including Lynchburg and one near Casselton, N.D., when a Bakken crude train created a huge fireball that forced the evacuation of the farming town.

No cause has been determined, said CSX regional vice president Randy Cheetham. He said the tracks had been inspected just three days before the wreck.

“They’ll look at train handling, look at the track, look at the cars. But until they get in there and do their investigation, it’s unwise to do any type of speculation,” he said.

State officials do have some say over rail safety.

Railroads are required by federal order to tell state emergency officials where trains carrying Bakken crude are traveling. CSX and other railroads called this information proprietary, but more than 20 states rejected the industry’s argument, informing the public as well as first-responders about the crude moving through their communities.

West Virginia is among those keeping it secret. State officials responded to an AP Freedom of Information request by releasing documents redacted to remove nearly every detail.

There are no plans to reconsider after this latest derailment, said Melissa Cross, a program manager for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

___

Contributors include Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C.; Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana; and Pam Ramsey in Charleston, West Virginia. Mattise reported from Charleston.
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    ASSOCIATED PRESS on the Oxnard train crash: Life-saving train design is rarely used

    Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

    Life-saving train design is rarely used

    By Justin Pritchard, Feb 25, 2015 12:37 PM PST                                            
    AP Photo
    In this Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, file photo, Workers stand near a Metrolink train that hit a truck and then derailed in Oxnard, Calif. Three cars of the Metrolink train tumbled onto their sides, injuring dozens of people in the town 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Engineers have figured how to blunt the deadly force of a train smashing into a truck on the tracks. Yet few U.S. rail systems have adopted the technology, which is believed to have played a significant role in the remarkably low number of serious injuries from Tuesday’s commuter rail crash in California. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the collision between a Southern California commuter train and a truck abandoned on the tracks was this: No one died and only eight people on board were admitted to hospitals.

    Officials with the Metrolink train system credit cars designed to blunt the tremendous force of a head-on collision.

    Accident investigators have not yet said what role “crash energy management” technology played in Tuesday’s wreck. But the fact that so few among the 50 people on board were seriously injured is prompting other commuter train systems to take a renewed look at safety technology that has been around for at least a decade but still is not widely used in the United States.

    A spokesman for Metro-North, the New York City commuter railroad where a fiery collision between an SUV and a train Feb. 3 killed six people, said the California crash will prompt Metro-North “to assess whether the system could be beneficial in enhancing safety.”

    It is not clear whether the technology would have made a difference in the most recent Metro-North crash, in which more than 400 feet of electrified third rail snapped into a dozen sections and speared the train. The Metro-North passenger cars meet federal design standards but do not include crash energy management systems, spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

    Back in California, Metrolink officials are crediting crash energy management, which was designed and built into three of the four double-decker passenger cars involved in the accident, with the remarkably low number of serious injuries even though the impact at an estimated 55 mph was violent enough to fling several cars onto their sides.

    “Safe to say it would have been much worse without it,” Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said of how the technology performed during the crash in Oxnard, about 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

    The safety systems can vary in design, but the general idea is to disperse the energy of a crash away from where the passengers sit. Metrolink’s cars have collapsible “crush zones” at the ends of its cars that help absorb the impact, along with shock absorbers, bumpers and couplers.

    It is the same principle at work in the “crumple zones” in newer cars. They are designed to absorb the force of a crash while keeping people inside safe.

    Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. secretary of transportation stood at the site of a horrendous Metrolink crash near downtown Los Angeles and called for the widespread adoption of this kind of train car.

    In response to that 2005 accident in which a train smashed into an SUV in Glendale, killing 11 people, Metrolink bought dozens of new passenger cars equipped with these systems.

    In 2010, the first of those cars rolled into use. By June 2013, the system had 137 of the cars – about two-thirds of its fleet – bought for $263 million from South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem Inc., Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson said.

    While federal regulators for years have weighed rules that might require the technology, they have not formally proposed such measures for trains with a top speed of less than 125 mph. Rules are in place for a small subset of trains that can go faster.

    Aside from Metrolink, crash energy management equipment is used by Amtrak, including on its Acela line in the Northeast, and two systems in Texas, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

    One obstacle to more widespread use of the train technology is that it has to be designed into new passenger cars, and railroads that bought cars without it in recent years may not want to invest in new ones so soon. Railroads can’t simply retrofit existing cars.

    “It is not a bolt-on device,” said Martin Schroeder, chief technology officer for the American Public Transportation Association. He has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration as it considers whether to propose rules for the systems.

    The advisory committee on which he sat finished its work in 2010. The Federal Railroad Administration would not comment Wednesday on the status of possible regulations.

    Meanwhile, federal investigators looking into the Southern California wreck focused on the man who drove his pickup truck onto the tracks, then abandoned it as the train approached before dawn. Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, was arrested on suspicion of leaving the scene of an accident.

    Ron Bamieh, an attorney for Ramirez, said his client did all he could to try to free the truck, then ran for help. But National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said late Tuesday that the truck was not stuck in the sense that it bottomed out on the tracks. He also noted that its emergency brake was on.

    Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, New York, and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this story.
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      Investor Q&A: Why the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is divesting from fossil fuels

      Repost from GreenBiz
      [Editor: See also ABC News: Fossil Fuel Divestment Effort Comes to Energy-Rich Colorado – “A campaign to get universities to stop investing in greenhouse gas-producing fuels came deep into energy country Friday as activists asked the University of Colorado to divest from coal and petroleum companies.”  – RS]

      Investor Q&A: Why the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is divesting from fossil fuels

      IFC SUSTAIN Magazine, Thursday, February 26, 2015 – 2:00am 
      Rockefeller Brothers Fund divest fossil fuels
      Here’s why a foundation built upon oil is pulling its funds from fossil fuels. Shutterstock/

      Rockefeller and oil go together like Starbucks and coffee.

      So it took most people by surprise when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced in September that it would divest from fossil fuels and invest in cleaner alternatives.

      In a recent Q&A, Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz explained what led to the decision, how the foundation is restructuring its investments and how he expects others to react.

      Stephen Heintz Rockefeller Brothers Fund
      Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
      IFC SUSTAIN: Can you explain what led to your decision to divest from fossil fuels?

      Stephen Heintz: Combatting climate change with grant dollars alone is no longer sufficient.

      Since 2010, the RBF has been working to invest a portion of our endowment (10 percent) in companies that are advancing sustainable practices and clean energy technologies. During Climate Week in September, we announced that the RBF has launched a two-step process of fossil fuel divestment.

      IFC SUSTAIN: Can you describe how you are divesting?

      Heintz: Our first step was to exit from investments in coal and tar sands oil, two of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels. The second step of our process has been to undertake a detailed analysis of our remaining fossil fuel exposure (oil and gas) and to develop a plan for further divestment.

      We are working to balance our deep concern over fossil fuels with the Fund’s longstanding mandate that our assets be invested with the goal of achieving financial returns that will maintain the purchasing power of our endowment, so that future generations will also benefit from the foundation’s charitable giving.

      IFC SUSTAIN: Do you think other investors will follow your lead?

      Heintz: Yes, we are very confident others will join this effort. Globally, we need greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 80 percent by 2050. We can only get there by leaving the bulk of coal, oil and gasin the ground and by transitioning to clean energy without delay.

      Yet the stock price of a fossil fuel company is linked to its reserves. These are stranded and unburnable assets whose economic value is diminished — a reality that investors now understand and are starting to consider in their investment decisions.

      Clear evidence of the increasing number of investors recognizing the urgency of this issue and acting on it can be seen in the growing numbers of institutions and individuals who have signed onto the Divest/Invest Philanthropy pledge.

      IFC SUSTAIN: How do you think this pressure from investors will affect extractive companies?

      Heintz: The pressure from this movement of investors is, we feel, adding weight to the critical conversation about policy — national, international and corporate — on addressing climate change with an urgency that is proportionate to the challenge.

      Capital market and regulatory conditions are uniquely material to the viability of extractive businesses. Investor pressure on companies is a part of a larger discussion that will increasingly influence commodity prices, the cost of capital, and global regulatory agendas, which will have an impact on the operations of these companies.

      By putting our money where our mouth is, we have been part of an effort that has taken the question of stranded assets from a hypothesis of activists to a mainstream consideration within capital markets and even central banks (see, for example, recent Bank of England statement).

      IFC SUSTAIN: What specific changes can extractive companies reasonably make to address climate change and continue to attract investors?

      Heintz: Concretely, companies can look at how to be good stewards of shareholder capital and commit to a candid assessment of how to best use their resources. Borrowing to invest in long-term risky projects that require $140 per barrel of oil to break even is difficult to justify.

      Responsive companies will focus on returning capital to shareholders instead and migrate from a growth-at-all-costs (regardless of future profits) mindset. Extractive companies can begin to redeploy CAPEX from searching for more reserves to diversifying their businesses by investing more aggressively in renewable energy.

      IFC SUSTAIN: Looking into the future, how do you think your energy investment portfolio will evolve?

      Heintz: The window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change narrows with each day.

      Clean energy technologies and other business strategies that advance energy efficiency, decrease dependence on fossil fuels, and mitigate the effects of climate change are the way forward. Our investments in these sectors will continue to grow as more and more economically attractive opportunities open up.

      This article first appeared at SUSTAIN, a magazine produced by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.

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