All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

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.

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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.

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Fourth Department of Transportation Warning, Stricter Safety Standards

Repost from E2 WIRE – The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog

Emergency DOT order mandates rail crude oil tests

By Laura Barron-Lopez

The Department of Transportation on Tuesday issued an emergency order mandating stricter standards for shippers transporting crude oil by rail.

The order, which requires shippers to test the crude oil coming from the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, warns against improperly classifying the oil before it is transported by train.

This is the fourth warning by the department on safety concerns over crude oil in the last seven months.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide — if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement.

“And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups. From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude.”

Effective immediately, those transporting crude must properly test the oil and classify it according to federal safety regulations.

Earlier this month, the Transportation Department hit three companies with notices of possible violations for improperly labeling crude coming from the Bakken. The fines totaled $93,000.

In January, officials warned that Bakken crude could pose a greater flammability risk than previously thought.

In the last seven months there have been roughly four derailments of trains carrying crude oil. The accidents prompted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue an alert in January warning the public, emergency responders and carriers that Bakken crude oil may be more likely to set off an explosion than other types of crude.

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