Rail safety not improved, expert says

Repost from Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Rail safety not improved, expert says

 By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix January 22, 2014 8:00 PM
Rail safety not improved, expert says
Derailed CN rail cars are seen near Gainford Alberta in this undated handout photo provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. Photograph by: HO , THE CANADIAN PRESS

First responders in Saskatoon now have access to more information about the dangerous goods coming through the city, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people living here are any more or less safe, according to one expert.

At the request of the federal government, and with the blessing of a host of Canadian mayors, Canada’s two Class 1 rail companies — Canadian Pacific and Canadian National — are now required to provide municipalities with quarterly updates about the nature and volume of dangerous goods transported through their areas.

But that information only arrives after the rail cars carrying the goods have already passed through the city.

“Is it really going to change anything? No. Is it going to make people more paranoid? Probably, yeah,” said James Nolan, a University of Saskatchewan professor who studies rail transportation.

The data about what is being shipped will not be made public and will only be in the hands of first responders. Still, Nolan says it’s not going to change anything or stop rail companies from transporting dangerous chemicals or crude oil through the city.

“They are going to say, ‘We are moving all these dangerous chemicals through Saskatoon.’ Well, sure. But they have been doing that flawlessly for the past ten years,” Nolan said.

Mayor Don Atchison has been part of a chorus of municipal leaders across the country lobbying the federal government to strengthen railway regulation in the wake of the July 6 train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. He’s a member of the Federation of Canadian of Municipalities’ (FCM) rail safety committee, which met with Transport Minister Lisa Raitt Wednesday.

“We are dealing with the most pressing issue, and that is knowing what the goods are that are moving through the city,” Atchison said in an interview from Ottawa after the meeting.

Like always, first responders will have access to rail manifests in the event of a major derailment, he said. Now, however, they will also know in advance when something unusual is passing through. The two major railway companies still have no plans to move their lines out of the city, he said.

Nolan said the massive increase in the amount of crude oil being shipped by rail nationwide means derailments are more likely to result in oil spills. And after the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, the public is more conscious of rail safety.

“The railways are no less safe they were two years ago. They are just moving way more oil,” he said.

Shipments of crude by rail in Canada surged last year to 140,000 carloads, or about 260,000 barrels a day, from about 500 carloads in 2009, according to the Railway Association of Canada. There is no specific data on how much oil is being shipped by rail in Saskatchewan.



    Yet another derailment – in central Philadelphia

    Repost from Philadelphia-based Protecting Our Waters.  Pay close attention to paragraph 2 … “Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area…in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.”

    A Near Miss from Disaster: Oil Train Derails in Philadelphia

    January 20, 2014


    Bakken Shale oil train derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on January 20th, 2014. Photo: NBC Chicago/SkyForce

    Philadelphia’s wake-up call is here. A few months ago, Protecting Our Waters started warning people about the dangers of the fracked oil trains coming to Philadelphia from the Bakken Shale formation out west. We’ve reported on multiple oil train explosions and derailments across North America, one of which, in Lac Megantic, Canada killed 47 people. As of this morning, the threat of an accident here in Philadelphia is no longer hypothetical.

    Just after 1 a.m. this morning, seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand. ABC 6 Action News and Fox Philadelphia have short videos on the derailment, although the AP story they include incorrectly states that the accident occurred around 1 p.m. The bridge runs just south of the South Street Bridge from University City to Grays Ferry. It also runs over the heavily-trafficked Schuylkill Expressway, which was shut for two hours following the derailment. Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area. It’s also in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.

    The Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge over the University of Pennsylvania's fields, the Schuylkill Expressway, and the Schuylkill River. From Google Maps

    As the trains were carrying oil from out west and following a route we know that the Bakken oil trains take on their way to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, it’s a safe bet that these were the same trains that have derailed and exploded four times in the last eight months and whose construction and contents are becoming notorious for their safety hazards. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trains were crossing a 100-year-old bridge that now sees two mile-long oil trains each day. Fortunately, none of the cars fell off the bridge, nor have authorities found any leaks. News photos show the cars almost dangling from the narrow two-track bridge, precariously close to falling into the river. As of 9 a.m. this morning, they were still there.

    As with pipeline explosions and leaks, it seems like oil train derailments and explosions are becoming business as usual. Also as usual, authorities aren’t sure what may have caused the train to derail. That’s a question that needs to be answered before any more of these trains run. Will it be? That’s partly up to us– and to you.

    So Philadelphians, or anyone else living in the path of these “bomb trains”: write and call your elected officials and ask them if they have an evacuation plan for if disaster occurs. Urge them to make sure the trains are stopped to ensure residents’ safety; join our regional letter-writing campaign (contact powinquiries@gmail for fact sheets and more information), and tell your neighbors about the threat chugging right through our backyards.


      More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades

      Repost from McClatchy Washington Bureau:

      More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades, federal data show

      By Curtis Tate
      McClatchy Washington Bureau

      WASHINGTON — More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents last year than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills, an analysis of the data shows.

      Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

      By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.

      The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.

      Nearly 750,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a train on Nov. 8 near Aliceville, Ala. The train also originated in North Dakota and caught fire after it derailed in a swampy area. No one was injured or killed.

      The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn’t yet have spill data from a Dec. 30 derailment near Casselton, N.D. But the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the lead investigator in that incident, estimates that more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled there. Though no one was injured or killed, the intense fire forced most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents to evacuate in subzero temperatures.

      The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, estimates that railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year. That’s more than 11.5 billion gallons, with one tank car holding roughly 28,800 gallons.

      Last year’s total spills of 1.15 million gallons means that 99.99 percent of shipments arrived without incident, close to the safety record the industry and its regulators claim about hazardous materials shipments by rail.

      But until just a few years ago, railroads weren’t carrying crude oil in 80- to 100-car trains. In eight of the years between 1975 and 2009, railroads reported no spills of crude oil. In five of those years, they reported spills of one gallon or less.

      In 2010, railroads reported spilling about 5,000 gallons of crude oil, according to federal data. They spilled fewer than 4,000 gallons each year in 2011 and 2012. But excluding the Alabama and North Dakota derailments, more than 11,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from trains last year.

      Last week, the principal Washington regulators of crude oil shipments by rail met with railroad and oil industry representatives to discuss making changes to how crude is shipped by rail, from tank car design to operating speed to appropriate routing. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the meeting productive and said the group would take a comprehensive approach to improving the safety of crude-oil trains.

      Foxx said the changes would be announced within the next 30 days.

      Crude oil spills on U.S. railroads

      From federal data showing locations, dates and amounts of oil spilled from trains, 1975 to 2013.



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