All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Another derailment – here in the Bay Area

Repost from KCRA Sacramento

BART train derailment in Concord causing major delays

Train is blocking rails in both directions

 UPDATED 7:10 PM PST Feb 21, 2014
BART derailment
A photo of the Concord BART derailment.

CONCORD, Calif. —A San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit train has derailed and is blocking both sides of the track on the Pittsburg Bay Point line.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said in a statement Friday that the out-of-service train derailed about 6:20 p.m. as it was leaving the Concord Station and going to Concord Yard.

Service between Pleasant Hill and Pittsburg Bay Point has been suspended because both tracks are blocked at Concord, Trost says. The control center is working to set up a bus bridge for passengers, she says.

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Transporting Fossil Fuels: Rail vs. Pipeline is the Wrong Question

Repost from EcoWatch

Transporting Fossil Fuels: Rail vs. Pipeline is the Wrong Question

Dr. David Suzuki | January 21, 2014

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

railpipe

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage—even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives—and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, to0—but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012—almost 25 times as many in only four years! That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.

The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with—at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one percent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products—regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

Visit EcoWatch’s PIPELINES  page for more related news on this topic.

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Railroads agree to slow down crude oil trains in major cities

Repost from ABC News
IMPORTANT TO NOTE: “The agreement does not … address an estimated 78,000 flawed tank cars that carry crude and ethanol and are known to split open during derailments. The U.S. Department of Transportation said it would address the tank car issue separately.”

Oil Train Wrecks Spur Railroad Safety Measures

BILLINGS, Mont. February 21, 2014 (AP)
By MATTHEW BROWN and JOAN LOWY Associated Press

Railroads that haul volatile crude shipments have reached an agreement with U.S. transportation officials to adopt wide-ranging, voluntary safety measures after a string of explosive and deadly accidents.

The deal signed Friday calls for oil trains to be slowed from a maximum of 50 to 40 miles per hour through major cities, more frequent track inspections and better emergency response planning along routes that carry trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of crude each.

The new safety steps would begin going into effect in late March and be fully in place by July 1.

After a boom in domestic drilling in recent years, oil trains now travel thousands of miles from oil producing areas, including the Northern Plains, to coastal refineries and shipping terminals along the Mississippi River and other major waterways.

The agreement does not resolve concerns over another hazardous fuel, ethanol, involved in a spate of rail accidents in recent years. It also does not address an estimated 78,000 flawed tank cars that carry crude and ethanol and are known to split open during derailments.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it would address the tank car issue separately.

By taking voluntary steps, the railroads will be able to act more quickly than if they waited for new safety rules to be drafted and approved by the government, said Robert Chipkevich, a former director of rail accident investigations at the National Transportation Safety Board.

But regulators will have little leverage to enforce the industry’s commitments, he added.

“It’s a positive step,” Chipkevich said. “But certainly there’s nothing to say they would have to continue following those practices. The only way you can enforce something like that would be for regulators to publish regulations and do periodic oversight.”

Federal officials said they would continue to pursue longer-term safety measures and use regular inspections to check for compliance with the industry agreement. With no formal rules in place inspectors could not issue fines or take other punitive measures.

“We expect for this to be a document that is fully adhered to, and are prepared to inspect accordingly and call out the industry as necessary,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said in a Friday interview with The Associated Press.

The Association of American Railroads represents the major railroads in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. President Edward Hamberger said he expects all of them to sign the agreement.

At least 10 times since 2008, freight trains hauling oil across North America have derailed and spilled significant quantities of crude, with most of the accidents touching off fires or catastrophic explosions.

The deadliest wreck killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Others have occurred in rural areas of North Dakota, Alabama, Oklahoma and New Brunswick. The derailments released almost 3 million gallons of oil, nearly twice as much as the largest pipeline spill in the U.S. since at least 1986.

“Safety is our top priority, and we have a shared responsibility to make sure crude oil is transported safely,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

Members of Congress who had pressed for tighter safety rules — including Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven of North Dakota and Mark Udall of Colorado — welcomed the industry agreement.

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