Tag Archives: Amtrak

Maryland judge orders railroads to release oil train reports

Repost from McClatchyDC

Maryland judge orders release of oil train reports

HIGHLIGHTS
• Case marks first time railroads have lost on the issue in court
• Judge not persuaded that release would harm security, business
• Companies that filed 2014 lawsuit have until Sept. 4 to appeal

By Curtis Tate, August 17, 2015
Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the the reports confidential.
Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the reports confidential. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

WASHINGTON – A Maryland judge rejected two rail carriers’ arguments that oil train reports should be withheld from the public, ordering them released to McClatchy and other news organizations that sought them.

The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.

The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring in May 2014 that railroads inform states of large shipments of crude oil after a series of derailments with spills, fires, explosions and evacuations. Since February, six more major oil train derailments have occurred in North America.

Nonetheless, some railroads have continued to press their case that the reports should be exempt from disclosure under state open records laws. Most states shared the documents anyway, and Pennsylvania and Texas did so after McClatchy appealed. Maryland is the only state that was taken to court after it said it would release the reports.

Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the Maryland Department of the Environment in July 2014 to stop the state agency from releasing the records to McClatchy and the Associated Press. They have until Sept. 4 to appeal the decision, issued Friday by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Both companies, which transport crude oil to East Coast refineries concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said they would review the decision.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would “respond at the appropriate time and venue.”

Melanie Cost, a spokeswoman for CSX, said the railroad “remains committed to safely moving these and all other shipments on its network.”

The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to access them.

In his 20-page opinion, Fletcher-Hill was not persuaded by arguments that releasing the oil train reports would harm the railroads’ security and business interests. He also dismissed the relevance of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May final rule addressing the safety of oil trains. The companies had argued that the final rule supported their claims.

He also ordered the companies to pay any open court costs.

In a statement, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said the agency was pleased with the ruling and that it is “committed to transparency in government.”

Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil, produced through hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in North Dakota, has grown exponentially in the past five years. However, a series of fiery derailments, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people, have raised numerous concerns about public safety, environmental protection and emergency planning and response.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued an emergency order on May 7, 2014, that required any railroad shipping 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through a state to inform that state’s emergency response commission what routes the trains would take and which counties they would cross, as well as provide a reasonable estimate of how many trains to expect in a week.

Beginning in June 2014, McClatchy submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports, including Maryland.

McClatchy was able to glean some of the details in the Maryland report through a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak, which owns part of Norfolk Southern’s oil train route in the state. The subsequent release of oil train reports in Pennsylvania revealed more about such operations in Maryland.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an 84-page assessment of oil train safety in the state, which examined derailment risk, tank car failures and regulatory oversight. Some Maryland lawmakers have called for the state to perform a similar assessment.

    Railroads face big fines for failure to meet federal safety deadline

    Repost from McClatchyDC

    Railroads face big fines for failure to meet federal safety deadline

    HIGHLIGHTS

    • Feds plan to enforce Dec. 31 deadline
    • Penalties could add up for railroads
    • Congress hasn’t provided much funding
    By Curtis Tate, August 7, 2015

    An Amtrak Capitol Corridor train from Sacramento, Calif., arrives at Diridon Station in San Jose on Aug. 10, 2012, alongside trains of Altamont Commuter Express. Amtrak and commuter railroads must install Positive Train Control this year under a 2008 mandate from Congress, but most will miss the deadline.

    The Federal Railroad Administration plans to impose big penalties on railroads that fail to meet a year-end deadline to install a new collision avoidance system, including more than 70 percent of the nation’s commuter railroads.

    Congress mandated Positive Train Control in 2008, but most of the nation’s commuter and freight railroads won’t have the system ready by Dec. 31. The technology is required for about 60,000 miles of track, including those that carry passengers or chemicals that are poisonous or toxic by inhalation.

    A push in Congress to extend the deadline by three to five years has stalled, and lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to the Capitol until next month.

    Despite the commuter rail industry’s best efforts, implementing PTC nationwide by the end of this year is not possible. Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO, American Public Transportation Association

    In a Friday report to lawmakers, the FRA said it planned to enforce the mandate they set in 2008. As of Jan. 1, 2016, railroads that have failed to install Positive Train Control on the required track segments face fines up to $25,000 a day for each violation.

    “The potential civil penalties that FRA could assess are substantial,” the agency wrote.

    Only 29 percent of the nation’s commuter railroads will meet the Dec. 31 deadline, according to the American Public Transportation Association, and the rest may need one to five more years.

    “Despite the commuter rail industry’s best efforts,” said Michael Melaniphy, the association’s president and CEO, “implementing PTC nationwide by the end of this year is not possible.”

    FRA has requested funding from Congress every year since 2011 to help commuter railroads install Positive Train Control, including $825 million in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget. Lawmakers have only provided $42 million to date.

    “Congress has not provided a guaranteed, reliable revenue stream for implementation on commuter railroads,” the agency wrote.

    The agency has used other tools to help commuter railroads, including $650 million in grant funds, $400 million of which came from the 2009 economic stimulus.

    In May, FRA issued a $967 million loan to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest commuter rail agency, to install Positive Train Control on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road.

    Melaniphy said that commuter railroads have spent $950 million to date on the system, but need nearly $3.5 billion to get the job done.

    The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended the system since 1969, but Congress didn’t require it until the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

    Twenty-five people were killed in August of that year when a Metrolink commuter train smashed head-on into a freight train near Chatsworth, Calif.

    Positive Train Control could have automatically stopped the train before it ran past a red signal. Metrolink is one of the few commuter railroads that will meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

    $25,000 Maximum fine, per incident per day, for missing Dec. 31 deadline

    In other more recent fatal crashes, trains approached curves at two or three times the appropriate speed, and the system could automatically have slowed them down.

    Four people died in December 2013 when a Metro-North commuter train jumped the tracks north of New York City. The train was traveling 82 mph at a curve restricted to 30 mph.

    In May, an Amtrak Northeast Corridor train barreled into a 50 mph curve north of Philadelphia at 106 mph and derailed. Eight people were killed.

    Amtrak will meet the Dec. 31 deadline for installing Positive Train Control along the Northeast Corridor, which it owns. On other routes, it will depend on freight railroads, some of which will be ready, while some won’t.

    According to FRA, only freight hauler BNSF and two commuter railroads, Metrolink and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, have submitted safety plans required under the 2008 federal law.

      Positive Train Control: FRA says nearly all of the nation’s railroads will fail to meet Dec. 31 deadline

      Repost from FoxCT.com Hartford, CT
      [Editor:  Read the Federal Railroad Administration report in its entirety.  Also, see the FRA press release.  – RS]

      Metro-North slammed by Blumenthal for sitting on $1 billion

      By Tony Terzi, August 12, 2015 6:28 PM
      metro north train crash
      Metro North train crash

      NEW HAVEN – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) is steaming because Metro-North Railroad, loaned nearly $1 billion dollars of federal money to implement a train safety technology, is sitting on that money and will miss the Federal Railroad Administration’s year-end deadline to put it in place.

      With 145 train accidents resulting in 300 deaths in recent decades, Blumenthal said Wednesday he doesn’t understand why Positive Train Control technology wasn’t in place long ago.

      “We’ve known about this technology and there’s been calls to implement it since 1969, when a crash in Darien took four lives,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

      In a recent report, the FRA stated nearly all of the nation’s railroads will fail to meet the December 31 deadline.

      “Tragically, our own Metro-North is failing to set a definite deadline for adopting it, which is unacceptable,” said Blumenthal.

      Metro-North says the safety technology will be fully operational in 2018. All railroads not in compliance by the end of this year could be fined tens of thousands of dollars per day, until they adhere to the mandates.

      A Metro-North spokesperson says “forcing fines on the MTA and other railroads, that have worked closely with the FRA to establish safe implementation timelines, distracts from our joint goal of installing PTC expeditiously.”

      But, $1 billion dollars of federal money should get the wheels rolling much faster, according to passengers.

      “What are they doing with the money?” asked Donielle Camerato of Branford. “Why are they waiting so long? There’s an awful lot of train accidents.”

      In West Haven, in the spring of 2013, Robert Luden, of East Haven, who was a rail worker, was killed while working on the tracks.

      “He would be alive today if this system had been in place because that train would’ve been stopped before it hit him,” said Blumenthal.

      Shoreline East, Connecticut’s other commuter railroad, has an earlier version of Positive Train Control already in place on its tracks, which are operated by Amtrak.

      To read the Federal Railroad Administration report in its entirety, click here.