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States Step Up Scrutiny of Oil Train Shipments

Repost from GOVERNING The States and Localities

States Step Up Scrutiny of Oil Train Shipments

Some states are looking to prevent more derailments and spills, but the freight industry doesn’t want more regulation.
 By Daniel C. Vock | August 26, 2015

In 2014, several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va. (AP/Steve Helber)

When it comes to regulating railroads, states usually let the federal government determine policy. But mounting concerns about the safety of oil trains are making states bolder. In recent months, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state have taken steps to strengthen oversight of the freight rail industry.

The three join several other states — mostly led by Democrats — in policing oil shipments through inspection, regulation and even lawsuits. Washington, for example, applied a 4-cent-per-barrel tax on oil moved by trains to help pay for clean-ups of potential spills. The new law also requires freight rail companies to notify local emergency personnel when oil trains would pass through their communities.

“This means that at a time when the number of oil trains running through Washington is skyrocketing, oil companies will be held accountable for playing a part in preventing and responding to spills,” said Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee when signing the measure this spring.

The flurry of state activity comes in response to a huge surge in the amount of oil transported by rail in the last few years. Oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and nearby states must travel by train to refineries and ports because there are few pipelines or refineries on the Great Plains. The type of oil found in North Dakota is more volatile — that is, more likely to catch on fire — than most varieties of crude.

Public concerns about the safety of trains carrying oil have increased with the derailments in places like Galena, Ill.; Mt. Carbon, W. Va.; Aliceville, Ala.; Lynchburg, Va.; Casselton, N.D.; and especially Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died in 2013.

Federal regulators responded to these incidents by requiring railroads to upgrade their oil train cars, to double check safety equipment on unattended trains, and to tell states when and where oil trains would be passing through their borders. This last requirement was hard won. This summer, the Federal Railroad Administration tried to encourage states to sign nondisclosure agreements with railroads about the location of oil trains. After several states balked, the agency relented.

California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Oklahoma have all signed nondisclosure agreements, while Idaho, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have refused to do so, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

A Maryland judge earlier this month ruled against two rail carriers, Norfolk Southern and CSX, that wanted to block the state’s environmental agency from releasing details of their oil shipments. The railroads have until early next month to decide whether to appeal.

“The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret,” wrote reporter Curtis Tate of McClatchy, one of the news organizations that requested the records, “but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.”

Many states want this information so that fire departments and other emergency personnel can prepare for a potential derailment. California passed a law last year imposing clean-up fees on oil shipped by rail. The railroad industry challenged the law in court, but a judge ruled this summer that the lawsuit was premature. Minnesota passed a similar law last year, and New York added rail inspectors to cope with the increase in oil train traffic. A 1990 federal law lets states pass their own rules to prepare for oil spills, as long as those rules are at least as rigorous as federal regulations.

In Pennsylvania, which handles 60 to 70 oil trains a week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked a University of Delaware expert to help to improve safety of oil trains traveling through the state. The professor, Allan Zarembski, produced 27 recommendations for the state and the railroads. He called on the state to improve its inspection processes of railroad tracks, particularly for tracks leading into rail yards, side tracks and refineries that often handle oil trains. The professor also encouraged the state to coordinate emergency response work with the railroads and local communities.

Zarembski’s suggestions for the railroads focused on how they should test for faulty tracks, wheel bearings and axles. Most major derailments in recent years were caused by faulty track or broken equipment, not human error, he noted in his report.

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Oil Train Explosions: A Timeline in Pictures

Repost from Sightline
[Editor:  An excellent summary that promises to be kept current.  This will replace the now outdated Bomb Trains facebook page.  Bookmark it!  (I hope someone will offer to edit this adding a few salient facts about each derailment/explosion.)  - RS]

Oil Train Explosions: A Timeline in Pictures

Ten explosions in two years, and no end in sight.
By Eric de Place and Keiko Budech, May 6, 2015 10:51 am

At 7:15 this morning, yet another crude oil train erupted into an inferno, this time near a small town in central North Dakota.  As these wildly dangerous trains continue to explode—at least 10 in the last two years—it’s become challenging to keep track of them all. So, for the record, we’ve assembled here a pictorial timeline of North America’s bomb trains.

Last week, the Obama administration adopted new regulations that will phase out many of the most hazardous tank cars over the next five to six years. The regulations also substantially reduce public oversight of train movements and industry behavior.

We will update this post as new explosions occur.

Heimdal, North Dakota: May 6, 2015

Heimdal ND 2015-05-06

Train derailment and tanker fire by Heimdal, ND, 2015-05-06. Pic courtesy of Jennifer Willis.

Gogama, Ontario: March 7, 2015

05_07_2015OntarioDerailment

Galena, Illinois: March 6, 2015

Galena_OilTrain_Derailment

Mount Carbon, West Virginia: February 16, 2015

20150217_Crude Oil train Derailment_0090_1_2

Timmins, Ontario: February 14, 2015

Timmins, ONT, derailment

Lynchburg, Virginia: April 30, 2014

James River, oil train derailment,oil trains

Plaster Rock, New Brunswick: January 8, 2014

NewBrunswickDerailment2

Casselton, North Dakota: December 30, 2013

North Dakota Oil Train Derailment

Aliceville, Alabama: November 8, 2013

Oil train derailment and river contamination, Aliceville, AL (2). Photo by John L. Wathen, used with permission.

 Lac-Mégantic, Quebec: July 6, 2013

Train derailment

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10 Recent Oil Train Crashes in the US and Canada

Repost from ABC News
[Editor:  It’s good to find a compilation of these catastrophic oil train accidents all in one place.  See also a listing on SafeBenicia.org, somewhat out of date but with more detail and photos.  – RS]

Recent Oil Train Crashes in the US and Canada

By The Associated Press, May 1, 2015, 3:28 PM ET

Sweeping regulations to boost the safety of trains transporting crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids were announced Friday by U.S. and Canadian officials. The long-awaited regulations are a response to a series of oil train accidents in both countries over the last few years that have resulted in spectacular fires that burned for days.

Here are some of those accidents:

— July 5, 2013: A runaway Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train that had been left unattended derailed, spilling oil and catching fire inside the town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings burned in the town’s center. About 1.6 million gallons of oil was spilled. The oil was being transported from the Bakken region of North Dakota, the heart of an oil fracking boom, to a refinery in Canada.

— Nov. 8, 2013: An oil train from North Dakota derailed and exploded near Aliceville, Alabama. There were no deaths but an estimated 749,000 gallons of oil spilled from 26 tanker cars.

— Dec. 30, 2013: A fire engulfed tank cars loaded with oil on a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train after a collision about a mile from Casselton, North Dakota. No one was injured, but more than 2,000 residents were evacuated as emergency responders struggled with the intense fire.

— Jan. 7, 2014: A 122-car Canadian National Railway train derailed in New Brunswick, Canada. Three cars containing propane and one car transporting crude oil from Western Canada exploded after the derailment, creating intense fires that burned for days. About 150 residents of nearby Plaster Rock were evacuated.

— Jan. 20, 2014: Seven CSX train cars, six of them containing oil from the Bakken region, derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The bridge is near the University of Pennsylvania, a highway and three hospitals. No oil was spilled and no one was injured. The train from Chicago was more than 100 cars long.

— April 30, 2014: Fifteen cars of a crude oil train derail in Lynchburg, Virginia, near a railside eatery and a pedestrian waterfront, sending flames and black plumes of smoke into the air. Nearly 30,000 gallons of oil were spilled into the James River.

— Feb. 14, 2015: A 100-car Canadian National Railway train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed in a remote part of Ontario, Canada. The blaze it ignited burned for days.

— Feb. 16, 2015: A 109-car CSX oil train derailed and caught fire near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation. The blaze burned for most of week.

— March 10, 2015: 21 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train hauling oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota derailed about 3 miles outside Galena, Illinois, a town of about 3,000 in the state’s northwest corner.

— March 7, 2015: A 94-car Canadian National Railway crude oil train derailed about 3 miles outside the Northern Ontario town of Gogama. The resulting fire destroyed a bridge. The accident was only 23 miles from the Feb. 14th derailment.

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