Latest oil train derailment

Repost from Reuters

Train carrying fuel oil derails, spills in Mississippi

By Therese Apel
Fri Jan 31, 2014

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) – A Canadian National Railway Co train carrying fuel oil and other hazardous materials derailed and was leaking in southeast Mississippi on Friday, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents, officials said.

Reuters / Andrew Burton

No one was injured in the incident which involved the derailment of 21 railcars, eight of which have spilled their contents, a Canadian National Railway spokesman said.

Several of the cars were carrying hazardous materials including fertilizer and methanol, but there was no fire, he said.

The accident, the latest in a string of North American train derailments over the past year, occurred in the city limits of New Augusta in Perry County, near a mobile home park, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Emergency services were on the scene and responding to the accident, local officials said.

Local sheriff Jimmy Dale Smith said that fewer than 20 people have had to be evacuated at last count.

“They’ve got these spills pretty much contained and secured, and we’re working on starting the cleanup process at this point,” Smith said from the scene. “Hopefully we can get everything cleaned up this afternoon and get people in their homes tonight.”

Friday’s accident follows a spate of explosive derailments of trains carrying crude oil over the past year that has raised questions about safety, especially of some older tank cars prone to puncture.

Federal regulators have been studying railcar design and other issues after the accidents, including one last month when a 106-car BNSF Railway Co train carrying crude east crashed into a derailed westbound BNSF grain train near Casselton, North Dakota.

Last July, a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

(Additional reporting by Solarina Ho in Toronto; writing by Edward McAllister in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Minimal enforcement fines

Repost from the Kansas City Star and McClatchy Newspapers

Federal rail agency collects minimal enforcement fines, documents show

By Curtis Tate
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation collects relatively small civil penalties against the railroads it regulates, as concern grows over the safety of shipping large volumes of crude oil and ethanol in tank cars long known to be deficient, federal documents show.

Tiskilwa, IL, 7-Oct-11

A McClatchy review of annual enforcement reports shows that the Federal Railroad Administration rarely fines any company more than $25,000, though it’s authorized to collect a maximum of $175,000 per violation. Some fines are as little as $250, and most settlements are substantially lower than the agency had first proposed.

Additional documents obtained by McClatchy reveal that the agency agreed to a $17,000 settlement in September 2010 with the Canadian National Railway over a June 2009 derailment in Cherry Valley, Ill. The accident killed one person, injured nine – including two firefighters – spilled more than 300,000 gallons of ethanol and caused the evacuation of more than 600 nearby residents.

Two inspection reports filed in the weeks after the accident also show that the violations that resulted in the fine didn’t directly contribute to the accident or its severity, including faulty equipment on cars that didn’t derail or spill their cargo and incorrect documentation of the placement of cars in the train. Such defects would have been violations even if the accident hadn’t occurred.

The agency originally proposed a $25,000 fine for the accident, in which 13 tank cars of ethanol derailed, leaked and caught fire.

In contrast, the railroad reached a $36 million settlement in October 2011 with the family of the woman who was killed when the fire engulfed her car at a road crossing.

“The Federal Railroad Administration uses a variety of tools to ensure that railroads are operating safely, including civil penalties, enforcement actions and partnerships to drive change within safety culture,” said Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the agency. “These tools are an integral force in driving continuous safety improvement, resulting in significant declines in all measureable safety indicators.”

Patrick Waldron, a spokesman for Montreal-based Canadian National, said the company agreed to pay the fine and, as with any report it discusses with its U.S. regulators, “continually reviews our own internal procedures for regulatory compliance and safety improvements.”

The railroad administration collected $13.9 million in civil penalties last year.

The small settlement amounts demonstrate a “symbiotic” relationship between railroads and their federal regulators, said Mary Schiavo, a former DOT inspector general during the Clinton administration.

“Fines are a cost of doing business,” she said.

The Cherry Valley accident prompted a warning in 2012 from the National Transportation Safety Board about the inadequacy of the DOT-111A tank car, the most common type in service on North American railroads. The NTSB is an advisory board that has no enforcement power. Agencies within the Department of Transportation may accept or ignore its recommendations.

Since October 2011, tank car manufacturers have voluntarily built DOT-111A tank cars to a higher standard, with features that help prevent punctures and ruptures that could release hazardous materials, and heat damage due to fire exposure.

But that still leaves tens of thousands of vulnerable older tank cars that are carrying massive quantities of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region to refineries and transfer terminals across the continent.

After fiery derailments in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota, regulators concluded that the Bakken crude, which is extracted from shale rock through hydraulic fracturing, is more volatile than conventional oils.

No one was killed or injured when Bakken crude oil trains derailed near Aliceville, Ala., in November and Casselton, N.D., in December, but the accidents together spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of oil.

The derailment of an unmanned, runaway crude oil train killed 47 people last July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Philadelphia had a close call last week, when a CSX crude oil train derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River but didn’t spill any of its cargo.

State and local officials, members of Congress, rail companies and petroleum producers have called on the federal government to issue new guidelines for the safe handling of crude oil by rail and to update the safety standards for tank cars.

The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, estimates that railroads moved 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, mostly Bakken. Railroads moved 325,000 carloads of ethanol in 2010, according to industry estimates.

The tank cars in the Quebec, Alabama, North Dakota and Illinois accidents weren’t considered defective under federal guidelines.

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Oil by rail in New York – Executive Action

Repost from DESMOGBLOG.COM 2014-01-30  by Justin Mikulka

(Editor: Note excellent video below.)

New York Governor Cuomo Issues Executive Order on Oil by Rail Safety

Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing several state agencies to review the risks posed by trasportation of crude oil by rail in New York. This issue has recently gained attention in Albany as the public has become aware of the large amounts of Bakken crude oil being shipped into Albany by rail, where it is then transferred to tankers that travel down the Hudson River.

The Governor’s order requests many relevant actions but also acknowledges that most of this is under federal jurisdiction and thus there isn’t much the state can do about it.  Much of what the Governor is requesting has been suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) many times over the years, as the agency did again this past week.

The new suggested NTSB changes have the support of the American Association of Railroads. However, the companies that actually would be responsible for most of the costs associated with improving rail car safety are the oil companies themselves. The American Petroleum Institute responded to the new safety regulations by pointing the finger at the rail companies, stating that, “the first step is to prevent derailments by addressing track defects and other root causes of all rail accidents.”

And the dance that has gone on around this issue for years continues on, resulting in more press releases, but no action.

Here is a video I produced about the oil by rail issue in New York:

Image credit: Transportation Safety Board

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