Tag Archives: Association of American Railroads (AAR)

RAIL SAFETY REPORT CARD: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Safety Report Card: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

By Justin Mikulka • Monday, May 9, 2016 – 15:12

A year ago, when Federal regulators announced new rules for “high hazard” trains moving crude oil and ethanol, the oil industry protested that the rules were too strict. The main point of contention made by the American Petroleum Institute (APIwas that the requirement to retrofit the unsafe DOT-111 and DOT-1232 tank cars within ten years did not allow enough time to get the job done.

Meanwhile, according to information recently provided to DeSmog by the Association of American Railroads, only 225 of the tank cars have been retrofitted in the past year. So, the API may have been onto something because at that rate it will take roughly 500 years to retrofit the entire fleet of DOT-111s and CPC-1232s based on government and industry estimates of fleet size of approximately 110,000.

As DeSmog reported earlier this year, the FAST Act transportation bill that passed in 2015 required that all DOT-111s that have not been retrofitted be retired from crude oil service by 2018. But the bill included the option that “The Secretary may extend the deadlines…if the Secretary determines that insufficient retrofitting shop capacity will prevent the phase-out of tank cars.”

However, prior to the new rule being finalized, Greg Saxton — a representative of leading tank car manufacturer Greenbrier — testified in Congress that there was sufficient shop capacity to meet the timeline noting that,“This is an aggressive timeline, we believe it is achievable.”

Saxton also made the assertion that the lack of new regulations was the issue that was delaying the safety retrofits.

The only thing holding the industry back is the government’s inaction on proposed new tank car design standards and a deadline for having an upgraded rail tank car fleet.”

Now a year after the new rule was announced, with a mere 225 cars undergoing the safety upgrades, it would appear that was not the only thing holding back the industry.

DeSmog reached out to the Railway Supply Institute, leading oil-by-rail carrier BNSF, and Greenbrier to inquire about the lack of retrofits to date and asked if shop capacity was an issue, but did not receive any response. The Association of American Railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration were unable to provide information on shop capacity.

Unlike Safety, Public Relations On Schedule

Despite not actually making any significant safety improvements to the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars — tank cars called an “unacceptable public risk” by a member of the National Transportation Safety Board — the public relations effort to push the idea that the issue has been addressed appears to be successful.

In an article published in Chicago Magazine in April 2016, the risks of oil-by-rail were covered in detail. However, that article included the following statement, “Those first-generation tank cars, called DOT-111s, have almost all been subjected to new protections, including having their shells reinforced with steel a sixteenth of an inch thicker than used in earlier models.”

But 225 tanker cars clearly does not qualify as “almost all” of the DOT-111 oil tank car fleet.

An article published shortly after the FAST Act was signed ran with the headline, “New Highway Bill Includes Tough Rules for Oil Trains.” Again, this would seem like overstating the reality of what the bill included.

As DeSmog has noted before, the oil and rail industries are very good at public relations when it concerns this topic. However, as when BNSF said they were buying 5,000 new tank cars that would exceed all safety standards, it often never results in anything more than a press release and some media coverage. BNSF never purchased the 5,000 tank cars.

Unsafe Tank Cars Can Carry More Oil and Bring Higher Profits

In January, Christopher A. Hart, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, presented his remarks on the NTSB’s safety “Most Wanted List” and once again mentioned the risk of the DOT-111s in moving crude oil.

“We have been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart said. “But an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time.”

Why would the industry want to take this risk? Could it be because unsafe cars are more profitable?

The more oil a tank car can haul, the more profitable that oil train will be. The way rail works is that the weight of the car plus the weight of the cargo can only combine to be a certain amount. If your tank car weighs less, you can put in more oil because it effectively has more capacity.

Exxon made this case to regulators prior to the rulemaking. Check out this slide the company presented that points out that adding safety measures “reduces capacity” — which reduces profit.

Tank cars full of volatile Bakken crude oil — deemed an “unacceptable public risk” by an NTSB member — continue to move through communities across North America. And the tank car owners are not moving to make the required safety retrofits.

While oil-by-rail traffic is declining with the current low oil prices, that is unlikely to continue. And with the lack of pipeline infrastructure needed to move dilbit from ever-increasing tar sands oil production, industry opinion holds that rail has a good chance of making a comeback. And they are going to need rail cars to move that oil.

The question remains: Will the Secretary of the Department of Transportation use the loophole in the FAST Act to grant the industry an extension on using DOT-111s past 2018?

If history is any indication, with rail safety improvements such as positive train control being repeatedly delayed for decades — including a recent three-year extension by Congress — it would appear that is a likely outcome if the DOT-111s are needed by the oil industry.

This makes the prediction by the head of the NTSB that “an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time” all the more likely to eventually occur.

Blog Image Credit: Justin Mikulka

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    Rail industry opposes 2-member train crews

    Repost from CTV News | Associated Press

    Industry opposes proposal for 2-member train crews in light of Lac-Megantic disaster

    Joan Lowy, The Associated Press , March 14, 2016 3:51PM EDT
    Lac-Megantic oil train disaster
    Wrecked oil tankers and debris from a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Que. are pictured July 8, 2013. (Sûreté du Québec handout via CP)

    WASHINGTON — Trains would have to have a minimum of two crew members under rules proposed Monday by U.S. regulators. The move is partly in response to a deadly 2013 crash in which an unattended oil train caught fire and destroyed much of a town in Canada, killing 47 people.

    The Federal Railroad Administration is also considering allowing railroads that operate with only one engineer to apply for an exception to the proposed two-person crew rule, according to a notice published in the Federal Regulator.

    The proposal is opposed by the Association of American Railroads, which represents major freight railroads. Many railroads currently use two-person crews, but some industry officials have indicated they may switch to one engineer per train once technology designed to prevent many types of accidents caused by human error becomes operational.

    Most railroads expect to start using the technology, called positive train control or PTC, between 2018 and 2020. It relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding or derailing.

    A 2008 law requires PTC technology on all tracks used by passenger trains or trains that haul liquids that turn into toxic gas when exposed to air by Dec. 31, 2015. After it became clear most railroads wouldn’t make that deadline, Congress passed a bill last fall giving railroads another three to five years to complete the task.

    There is “simply no safety case” for requiring two-person crews, Edward Hamberger, president of the railroad association, said in a statement. Single-person crews are widely and safely used in Europe and other parts of the world, he said.

    There will be even less need for two-person crews after PTC is operational, he said. PTC “is exactly the kind of safety redundancy through technology for which the (railroad administration) has long advocated,” he said.

    But Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said two-person crews are needed on trains in the same way it’s necessary to have two-pilot crews on planes.

    “The cost of adding a second, skilled crewmember pales in comparison to the costs of avoidable crashes and collisions,” Blumenthal said. It’s important that the railroad administration impose what safety regulations they can now since railroads “have dragged their feet” on implementing PTC, he said.

    On July 6, 2013, a 74-car freight train hauling crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota that had been left unattended came loose and rolled downhill into Lac-Megantic, a Quebec town not far from the U.S. border. The resulting explosions and fire killed 47 people and razed much the downtown area. The train had one engineer, who had gone to a hotel for the night.

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      3 Wisconsin derailments: reminder of need to improve rail safety

      Repost from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

      Wisconsin derailments are a reminder of need to improve rail safety

      Editorial | Railroad safety | November 12, 2015
      Train cars lie overturned outside of Alma after derailing on Saturday.
      Train cars lie overturned outside of Alma after derailing on Saturday. Associated Press

      The three train derailments in the last week in Wisconsin are another reminder that the industry, Congress and states have to move faster in making safety upgrades to rail cars and the tracks on which they move. Part of those improvements also should include better training for local responders to train accidents, better government oversight and more public access to industry records related to safety issues.

      A rail accident near Alma on Saturday resulted in a spill of 18,000 gallons of ethanol, much of which escaped into the Mississippi River. That accident involved a class of tankers that are being phased out and replaced with tankers that have more safety features. On Sunday in Watertown, a derailment resulted in the spill of crude oil and prompted the evacuation of 35 homes. That accident involved tankers that had been retrofitted with some upgrades. A minor derailment also occurred Wednesday in Watertown, but there was no spill and the cars stayed upright.

      As the Journal Sentinel noted in a Monday story, the accidents were the latest in a series of rail tanker mishaps across the United States and Canada in recent years that have moved safety issues and preparedness into the spotlight. That includes in Milwaukee, where oil-laden trains move through the heart of the city.

      Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Monday that “There has to be a stronger emphasis on safety — not just in urban areas but smaller communities as well. Watertown is not a large community.”

      And in a news release Thursday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said. “I have been sounding the alarm for two years on the need to put in place strong rail safety reforms. These two train derailments in Wisconsin are more evidence why Congress needs to take action on the reforms I have proposed.”

      Baldwin went on to call on the House and Senate conference committee “to include the reforms I have proposed in the final transportation bill. We need to put in place rail reforms that provide safety, transparency, and better communication between the railroads and local first responders and communities.”

      She’s right, as is Barrett. While the Senate adopted Baldwin’s reforms on rail safety in its version of the transportation bill, the House did not include those measures in its version. The conference committee should make sure the final bill includes the reforms.

      The fact is that railroad infrastructure is wearing down across the nation at the same time that there is a rising tide of railroad traffic, shipping oil from North Dakota to markets. Yes, railroad shipping is generally safe. The Association of American Railroads reports that the train accident rate is down 79% from 1980 and 42% from 2000, and that “99.995% of tanks carrying crude arrive safely.”

      And yet there is a serious risk to citizens. More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents in 2013 than was spilled in the previous 37 years. In 2013 in Quebec, 47 people were killed and 1.5 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in a rail accident involving crude being moved from North Dakota. That train had passed through downtown Milwaukee.

      The Wisconsin derailments are part of that pattern. Congress and the industry need to pick up the pace on safety.

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