All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

KQED: California’s Not Ready for Influx of Oil Trains, Says Report

Repost from KQED Science, NPR/PBS

California’s Not Ready for Influx of Oil Trains, Says Report

Molly Samuel, KQED Science | June 12, 2014

Trains carrying oil can pose serious risks to public safety and the environment, and California isn’t prepared, according to a report released by state agencies this week.

Crude-by-rail is a growing concern, as an oil boom in North Dakota has meant increasing amounts of crude traveling to refineries by rail. A series of fiery derailments in the past year, including one that killed 47 people in a Quebec town, has focused attention on the need to prevent accidents and be prepared for emergency response.

‘Even though we haven’t had an accident, which is great, we want to be able to respond to it when there is an accident.’– Kelly Huston, Office of Emergency Services

The report warns that a derailment in California could kill people, destroy neighborhoods, damage water supplies and threaten natural areas.

“Even though we haven’t had an accident, which is great, we want to be able to respond to it when there is an accident,” said Kelly Huston, a deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES). “With the increase in the amount of crude oil on rail coming through California’s cities and counties, we believe there should be some increased training for first responders.”

The report was released by an inter-agency group that includes the OES, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), among others. It recommends boosting funding for emergency responder training, and for equipment to handle hazardous material accidents. It also supports an item in Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget that would provide more money to the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, which has focused on marine oil spills in the past, but is now preparing for the possibility of inland spills.

It’s not all about accident response; there are also recommendations for prevention. Most rail regulation is up to the federal government; the CPUC helps enforce safety rules with its own rail inspectors. There are 52 of them, responsible for monitoring more than 5,400 miles of track in the state. “This staffing level is seriously inadequate,” the report says.

Paul King, deputy director for the rail safety at the CPUC, said the Governor’s budget aims to help. “To meet the volume of trains and the magnitude of the risk that [crude-by-rail] presents,” King said, “the Governor has put in his budget for extra staffing.”

There are other gaps the state cannot fill alone. As the CPUC pointed out in a report released last year, there is only one federal railroad bridge inspector for 11 Western states.

The report also raised the need for more information. As of last weekend, railroads that are transporting large shipments of Bakken, the volatile crude oil from North Dakota, must notify states. Huston of the OES said he got the first batch of documents Monday, but he said they’re of limited use and not timely enough. He said the OES is following up with BNSF and the federal Department of Transportation, the agency that issued the notification order.

Huston said he’d also like to see a map that the public could access, showing where the oil train shipments are headed. The railroads are resisting releasing information about crude shipments to the public.

Most of California’s oil comes either from within the state or overseas, and travels to refineries here by pipeline or ship. And that’s still the case. According the the California Energy Commission, only about one percent of California’s crude came by train in 2013. But trains carrying oil are becoming more frequent, and the CEC projects that by 2016, trains could be bringing in about 23 percent of California’s crude.


    Railroads oppose some oil train safety measures

    Repost from Politico

    Documents: Railroads want to hit brakes on some oil train safeguards

    By KATHRYN A. WOLFE | 6/13/14 5:08 AM EDT
    A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota, on Dec. 20, 2013.
    The report previews what the administration may be considering to stop crashes. | AP Photo: A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota, on Dec. 20, 2013.

    The railroad industry is warning the White House against some potential safety rules for trains carrying explosive crude oil, saying freight and passenger rail traffic could be disrupted for years if companies must obey 30 mph speed limits, install more sophisticated brakes and keep the trains manned at all times.

    The arguments, contained in documents posted after a meeting this week between railroad officials and the Office of Management and Budget, also offer a preview of what steps the Obama administration may be considering in response to oil train crashes that have struck the U.S. and Canada in the past year. Those include a disastrous July 6 explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, after an engineer left a train packed with North Dakota crude oil parked on a steep incline with brakes that may not have been properly set.

    The Department of Transportation declined to comment on the documents. DOT submitted a draft rule proposal to OMB in April but has offered no details about what’s in it.

    Companies represented at Tuesday’s OMB meeting included the four major freight railroads — BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX — as well as other industry groups and Amtrak, according to White House records.

    While Amtrak doesn’t haul crude oil, a BNSF handout arguing against lower speed limits said the passenger rail’s travel schedules on one 1,815-mile route could be lengthened by two hours if oil trains’ top speeds are lowered to 30 mph from 50 mph. That route stretches between Aurora, Ill., and Spokane, Wash., which BNSF called its primary route for crude oil.

    Slowdowns would cause “severe” impacts for the railroad’s operations, including both oil and grain shipments, BNSF said in the handout, calculating six-hour delays for freight trains along the same route. All told, the railroad said it would have to spend $2.8 billion to rebuild its lost shipping capacity during the next four years, while facing $630 million in additional annual expenses such as additional crew wages and lost productivity.

    The Association of American Railroads, the freight railroad industry’s main trade group, offered a similar document on the speed limit issue.

    None of the documents address the main issue people are expecting the DOT rule to address: increased safety requirements for the tanker cars that carry the oil.

    Oil train traffic across the U.S. has increased 40-fold since 2008 because of booming production in places like North Dakota and western Canada. It’s also become an increasingly contentious issue for communities from California and Washington state to Albany, N.Y., and Lynchburg, Va.

    The documents may not accurately reflect DOT’s undisclosed draft — the railroads may have been blindly making a case for what they don’t want to see happen. But they reveal that industry insiders have given thought to potential regulations that would go much further than the mostly voluntary measures DOT has imposed so far.

    Earlier this year, DOT announced that railroads had voluntarily agreed to restrict some oil trains to 40 mph in certain populous areas.

    But lowering the speed limit to 30 mph would harm “delivery capability” for BNSF’s oil customers, the railroad said in the document. To keep up with demand, it said, it would have to add an additional 11,280 tank cars to its crude oil fleet.

    In the other documents posted on OMB’s website:

    — A handout from CSX argues against requiring electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems, saying the technology is “expensive and only works if the entire train is equipped.” The company says the brakes would have “limited use and minimal safety impact.”

    As part of an existing voluntary agreement between the industry and DOT, railroads agreed to equip all trains pulling 20 or more carloads of crude oil with other types of advanced braking systems — either distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices.

    — And a final handout, whose authorship is unclear, argues against requiring that crude oil trains never be left unattended. It says “attending crude oil trains from origin to destination will increase congestion, require additional handling, and significantly drive up costs,” including $96 per hour for a two-person crew.

    It also says that “appropriate securement and security measures are already in place to ensure safe movement of crude oil shipments.”


      Investigators’ lab report on Canadian derailment

      Repost from CNW Group (Canada NewsWire)
      [Editor: This Transportation Safety Board of Canada report on a January derailment in New Brunswick may not strike you as current or relevant, but please note the detailed chronology of the cause of derailment and catastrophic failure.  A broken wheel led to track damage and rail failure, and punctures in the old DOT 111 tank cars were caused by one car slamming into the coupler assembly of the next car.  This report reads like a slow-motion visual experience of the wreck.  – RS]

      Derailment of Canadian National freight train at Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, 7 January 2014

      DORVAL, QC, June 12, 2014 /CNW/ –  June 12, 2014

      The occurrence

      On 7 January 2014, a Canadian National freight train was travelling from Toronto, Ontario to Moncton, New Brunswick, with 122 cars, 3 head-end locomotives and 1 remote locomotive. On the main track near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, 19 cars and the remote locomotive derailed.  Nine of these cars were carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas. There were no crew injuries. Approximately 150 people near the accident site were evacuated due to the resulting fire.

      While passing by a Wayside Inspection System (WIS), the crew received an alarm. Following normal procedures, the train was slowed down while minimizing in-train forces. However, before the train stopped, the rail cars began to derail resulting in a brake pipe separation and the application of the emergency brakes. Once the train came to a full stop, the conductor walked back towards the derailment site and found a broken wheel on the 2nd axle of the 13th car. This axle had derailed, with both wheels positioned inside the track gauge.

      Work Completed to Date

      TSB investigators and specialists from the TSB Engineering Lab have completed the field phase of the investigation. This includes the collection of the locomotive event recorder data, the results of previous wayside inspections, initial train inspection, and inspection of the track.  The tank cars were photographed and documented for further analysis.

      The broken wheel found at the occurrence site was documented and shipped to the TSB Engineering Lab for testing. Information was collected from the railway company, and officials and witnesses have been interviewed.

      What We Know

      The broken wheel failed due to fatigue. A crack initiated at a porosity and travelled under the running surface of the wheel which caused a shattered rim. The subject wheel was manufactured in 1991 and met the material requirements for that time period.  Wheels manufactured today undergo an ultrasonic inspection of the tread area to check for areas of porosity. This inspection procedure is carried out to detect and prevent wheels with significant areas of porosity, such as found in the subject wheel, from being placed into service.

      Track damage occurred as a result of the derailed wheels battering the base of the rail. Subsequently, multiple rail fractures were found between the initial point of derailment and the derailment site.

      Two of the tank cars were the primary source of the released oil that created the fire.  Both were older Class 111 tank cars, built in 1984 and 1996. The punctures in the head portion of the tank cars were most likely due to impacts with the adjacent tank car coupler assembly.

      Three CPC-1232 (design specification for Class 111 cars introduced in 2011) tank cars also derailed and were examined by the TSB team. One car was essentially undamaged, while another car had some damage associated with sliding on its side after derailing. Neither of these tank cars released product. The third CPC-1232 car did not initially release product. However, this car came to rest in the pool fire, resulting in the eventual degradation of the bottom outlet valve gasket and a small release of product.

      Next steps

      Work continues as this ongoing investigation is in the examination and analysis phase. Investigators will interview the train crew to confirm further details.  The team will review the history of the wheel as well as its manufacturing process and look closely at the effectiveness and adequacy of Wayside Inspection Systems and other inspection methods to detect problems with wheels and axles in service. Lab work continues on the detailed examination of the damage to tank cars in order to draw conclusions about their performance. Once this phase is complete, the report writing phase will commence.

      Communication of Safety Deficiencies

      Should the investigation team uncover safety deficiencies that present an immediate risk, the Board will communicate them without delay so they may be addressed quickly and the rail system made safer.

      The information posted is factual in nature and does not contain any analysis.  Analysis of the accident and the Findings of the Board will be part of the final report. The investigation is ongoing.


      The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

      SOURCE Transportation Safety Board of Canada

      For further information:
      TSB Media Relations
      (819) 994-8053