Tag Archives: Canadian National Railway

BNSF: if you live in a city of 100,000 or more, you might be just a TINY BIT safer – others, not so lucky

Repost from WDAZ TV, Grand Forks ND
[Editor:  By announcing these measures, BNSF is trying to put a happy face on continuing potential for train catastrophes.  These measures won’t help much, and notice they still are expecting an oil industry  “phase-out” of DOT-111 cars rather than an immediate ban.  – RS]

BNSF trains slow down: Railway announces plans to improve safety measures for oil shipments

By April Baumgarten / Forum News Service, Mar 29, 2015 at 11:32 a.m.
Click to visit WDAZ for 30-second news clip

Bismarck, ND (Forum News Service) – One of the top rail companies in the U.S. has announced steps to improve rail safety in North Dakota.

BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose outlined plans recently with Gov. Jack Dalrymple to implement additional measures throughout the company’s national rail system. BNSF also informed its customers on Friday about the safety measures, according to a news release.

“Railroad operations, equipment and maintenance are critical elements in our overall goal to improve rail safety, and I commend BNSF for taking these significant steps,” Dalrymple wrote in the release. “At the same time, we must move forward on other important aspects of rail safety including the need for new federal tank car standards and greater pipeline capacity.”

BNSF began a move Wednesday to have all of its oil trains reduce speeds to 35 mph through all municipalities with 100,000 or more residents. The speed reduction is temporarily in place until its customers phase out DOT-111 tanks cars from service, BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino said Saturday. Phasing out of the older cars, which will be replaced by CPC-1232 railcars to meet federal safety standards, is expected to begin in May, and BNSF hopes to complete the process by the end of the year. When that happens, BNSF will reconsider the speeds.

The shipping companies, not BNSF, own the cars, so the railway company has to wait on its customers to make the transition to the newer cars. The move was a voluntary part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Trevino said.

“What we want to do is do what we can to improve the safety of our operation,” he said. “What we can do is slow those trains down in larger communities.”

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said it was good to see BNSF taking proactive action to address railroad and safety weaknesses, though there are other measures he would like to see rail companies consider.

“I think many of our rural communities would also argue that their lives are no less at risk,” he said.

The only city in North Dakota that would fall under the reduced-speed measure is Fargo. The state’s largest city had an estimated population of about 113,700 people in 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Bismarck, the second largest city, had 67,000. Grand Forks, which is a collector for train traffic at its switch station, was home to about 55,000 residents.

“That doesn’t do a whole lot to secure our other communities,” Mock said.

Slowing the trains down in all communities would reduce the amount of product BNSF could ship and would burn up time, Trevino said. It would also impact trains hauling other commodities, such as grain or anhydrous ammonia. He added the measures go beyond the federal standard.

“If you slow those trains all around the network, then that (network) becomes as fast as that train,” he said.

Residents in Grand Forks feel uneasy when they see the “iconic-black, cylindrical tanks,” Mock said. Fortunately, Grand Forks has a train junction for switching lines, and many trains are coming through at a slow speed, meaning risk of a derailment is greater in cities where trains are traveling at higher speeds.

Still, residents are still curious and ask, “what if.”

“When a person sees a train rolling through town that has those iconic-black tanks running a mile long, there is a little apprehension,” he said.

Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot, said he was pleased when progress is made, adding he is comfortable with the governor’s response.

“If he feels the railroads are taking positive steps, that’s always good,” Maragos said.

Trevino said BNSF has also increased rail detection testing frequencies 2 ½ times federal standards, which tests the quality of the rail. It has also reduced tolerance for removing a car from a train for a potential defect, meaning the bar is set higher for a car’s quality and safety features.

For example, if a wheel is defective, it may be removed from the train immediately.

Previous derailments

Both North Dakota and rail companies have come under fire after several oil trains have derailed across Northern America, the most infamous being the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, derailment in July 2013. A runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying Bakken crude went off the tracks and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying the center of the city.

Closer to home, a BNSF train carrying crude hit a derailed grain train in December 2013 near Casselton, forcing it off the tracks and resulting in a fiery explosion. No injuries or deaths were reported, though a temporary evacuation was put into place. It was the fifth derailment near the city in 10 years, and another BNSF train with lumber and empty crude cars derailed in November.

Both trains used DOT-111 cars.

More recently, a CSX Corp. train derailed Feb. 16 near Mount Carbon, W. Va. Two Canadian National Railway Co. trains derailed in Ontario between February and March.

As a result, both Canada and the U.S. have looked into implementing measures to prevent disasters. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued orders to phase out the DOT-111 cars. While that is not expected to occur until May, Dalrymple urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a recent phone call to issue the new tank standards “as soon as possible,” according to the release. Dalrymple also told Foxx that pipelines offer the safest mode of transporting crude oil to market.

Action in North Dakota

North Dakota has also attempted to tame the flames. The state Industrial Commission unanimously approved a requirement for all oil producers to install and utilize oil-conditioning equipment to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude. The order would bring the vapor pressure of every barrel of oil produced in North Dakota under 13.7 pound per square inch before it is shipped. Crude producers must comply starting Wednesday.

Dalrymple and the Public Service Commission have also proposed a state-run railroad safety program and pipeline integrity program “that would complement federal oversight in North Dakota,” according to the release. The proposal would cost North Dakota $1.4 million for three position to inspect railroad tracks. Another three state employees would inspect pipelines that transport oil and other liquids to market.

Dalrymple’s release also comes the same week the North Dakota House voted down legislation requiring the state Department of Transportation to report on rail safety issues to a legislative committee. Senate Bill 2293, sponsored by Sen. George B. Sinner, D-Fargo, proposed spending $6 million every two years to carry out committee recommendations, but was criticized by Republicans because was “an unnecessary, duplicative requirement” since DOT already conducts studies, Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told Forum News Service this week.

The House voted down the bill 34-55 on Monday. Mock was disappointed with the bill’s failure, stating it was “incredibly shortsighted for the Legislature to fail that measure.”

“The legislators owe it to the people back home to get these reports on a more timely basis — find out what companies, like BNSF, are doing and make sure we are updated on the progress of railroad safety enhancements.” he said.

Sinner said the release is likely a response to the press coverage of SB 2293’s failure, and voting the bill down was political. While North Dakota has started to address the issues, Sinner said the state needs to do more.

He pointed out that all the legislators that voted against the bill were Republican.

“(The Republicans) have not offered one bill on rail safety this Legislature,” he said. “We need to have a bipartisan effort on this issue. This issue is too important.”

Maragos, who also supported the bill, said the state is addressing safety issues as they come to light. While it was hard for him to say if what leaders are doing is enough, he feels the state is doing everything it can to prevent accidents.

“For some people, it is never enough,” he said. “For others, it’s pushing too hard.”

He added: “When we see that isn’t enough, we’ll just move in to improve or strengthen the policies.”

Making rail safety a priority

BNSF plans to invest more than $335 million in track maintenance and capital improvement projects in North Dakota this year, including in Dickinson, Jamestown, Devils Lake and Hillsboro.

There are many products that are shipped from the state across the continent, Mock said, and other states are looking to North Dakota for assurance that cargo is packaged correctly.

He pointed to a derailment in Minot, where a Canadian Pacific train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed on Jan. 18, 2002. The incident released approximately 146,700 gallons of anhydrous, and a poisonous gas cloud hovered over the city, causing the death of at least one person and injuring more than 322 people, according to the National Transportation Safety Board report. The disaster also prompted an evacuation and caused more than $10 million in damages and environmental remediation.

Mock said had he not been allowed to leave work an hour early due to a slow night, he would have been caught in the fumes.

“Railroad safety is not just a Bakken crude issue,” he said. “The one state that should be taking railroad safety the most seriously is North Dakota, because our reputation is on the line.”

Like residents across the state, Mock would like to see more done. Railroad safety is a comprehensive issue that requires realistic standards, he said.

About 90 percent of North Dakota’s exports go out on rail, Sinner said. If a train carrying cargo from the state has an accident that could have been prevented, North Dakota’s industries will be affected, he added.

“The economic security of this state relies on the rail industry,” he said.

Maragos said the railroad companies are doing what they can to improve safety.

“With the amount of rail traffic and understanding that mechanical things break, even (BNSF), which is moving most of the oil, I think they are very sensitive to it, and I think they’re the best job they can in addressing safety concerns,” he said.

Trevino concurred, stating BNSF is doing everything it can to keep communities and its employees safe.

“We understand how to run our railroad,” he said. “We understand better than anyone the kinds of steps that can be taken to prevent loss, to mitigate potential loss, should an event occur, and respond to an event.”

Though Sinner is not sure to what extent, he said he plans to follow the issue closely and find ways to improve railroad safety.

“We need to do something with the increase in rail traffic and trains traveling around our state,” he said. “We need to make sure rail safety is a real priority.”

The Press was unable to contact Dalrymple on Saturday.

Oil industry lawsuit against BNSF: a look behind the scenes

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Purposeful Distraction? Unpacking the Oil Refiners’ “Bomb Trains” Lawsuit vs. Warren Buffett’s BNSF

By Steve Horn, Tue, 2015-03-24 15:58

On March 13, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — the oil refiners’ trade association — sued oil-by-rail carrying giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) for allegedly violating its common carrier obligation under federal law. A DeSmogBlog investigation has revealed there may be more to the lawsuit than initially meets the eye.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, AFPM sued BNSF “for violating its common carrier obligation by imposing a financial penalty” for those carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin and other hazardous petroleum products in explosion-prone DOT-111 rail cars.

AFPM‘s beef centers around the fact that BNSF began imposing a $1,000 surcharge for companies carrying explosive Bakken fracked oil in DOT-111 cars, as opposed to “safer” CPC-1232 cars, at the beginning of 2015.

The Warren Buffett-owned BNSF did so, argues AFPM, illegally and without the authority of the federal government.

“This $1,000 surcharge on certain PHMSA-authorized rail cars breaches BNSF’s common carrier duty to ship hazardous materials under the auspices of PHMSA’s comprehensive regime governing hazardous materials transportation,” wrote AFPM‘s legal team, featuring a crew of Hogan Lovells attorneys. “Allowing railroads to penalize companies that ship crude oil in federally-authorized rail cars would circumvent PHMSA’s statutory and regulatory process for setting rail car standards for hazardous materials shipments.”

Upon a quick glance, it seems like a fairly straight-forward case of federal law and an intriguing example of an intra-industry dispute. But as recent history has proven, the devil is in the details.

BNSF Surcharge Not Unique

Though unmentioned in AFPM‘s lawsuit, BNSF is not the only oil-by-rail “bomb trains” company promulgating a surcharge.

In February 2014, eight months before BNSF announced its surcharge, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP Rail) and Canadian National Railway Company both announced their own DOT-111 surcharge intentions.

CP Rail will add a $325 ‘general service tank car safety surcharge’ on each car of crude that is shipped in any container other than the CPC 1232 model, effective March 14, it said in a notice issued to customers,” Reuters reported. “The new tiered pricing scheme comes the same week that Canadian National Railway Co also confirmed it was increasing rates for the older variety of DOT-111 tank cars.”

In its lawsuit, AFPM disapprovingly cited minutes from a March 19 meeting held between BNSF higher-ups and U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) higher-ups in which a BNSF told PHMSA that “there needs to be [a] disincentive to use DOT 111.”

Those minutes were included as an exhibit to the complaint.

Yet in the Reuters article, CP Rail spokesman Ed Greenberg stated that his company had the same goal as BNSF: to “encourage shippers to work towards an upgraded tank car standard for crude by rail shipments.”

AFPM Lobbies vs. Regs, Funds Denial

As first reported here on DeSmogBlog, AFPM has attended meetings with the Obama White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which serves as an industry-friendly mediator between industry and executive-level regulatory agencies like PHMSA. BNSF top-level lobbyists, executives and attorneys have also had a seat at the table at those myriad meetings.

PHMSA is expected to publish a final version of updated oil-by-rail regulations in May, after announcing a delay in JanuaryAFPM also submitted comments in opposition to PHMSA‘s draft rules in September 2014, arguing it’s an issue of train tracks and people, not the rail cars themselves.   

While AFPM supports appropriate and effective mitigation, several of PHMSA’s proposed measures fail to take meaningful steps toward preventing derailments, risk significantly reducing crude rail capacity, and cost billions of dollars,” wrote AFPM. “AFPM respectfully submits that any effort to enhance rail safety must begin with addressing the primary root causes of derailments and other accidents: (1) track integrity and (2) human factors.”

Beyond advocating against oil-by-rail regulations, AFPM also funded a May 2014 study concluding that Bakken crude oil is no more chemically volatile than any other oil.

“Bakken crude oil was found to be well within the limits for what is acceptable for transportation as a flammable liquid,” the report concludes. “This survey shows that Bakken crude oil does not pose risks that are significantly different than other crude oils and other flammable liquids authorized for transportation as flammable liquids.”

BNSF Responds — Sort Of

Five days after AFPM filed its lawsuit, BNSF responded in the form of a press release. Well, kind of.

BNSF continues to review the complaint…challenging [its] recent implementation of rate discounts for crude shippers that load their product in rail cars with improved safety characteristics,” stated the company.

“This rate structure is also consistent with BNSF‘s ongoing efforts to ensure the safe transport of crude on our network, including voluntary adoption of enhanced operating practices around crude oil shipments and requesting the federal government to make newer, safer tank cars the new standard for crude-by-rail shipments, replacing the older DOT-111 and non-modified CPC-1232 cars.”

Purposeful Distraction?

So, what gives? Why a lawsuit against BNSF by AFPM and not against CN Rail nor CP Rail? No clear answers exist and AFPM did not respond to a request for comment sent by DeSmogBlog.  

Despite the murkiness at play, some answers do exist.

Firstly, CPC-1232 tanks cars — the centerpiece of the lawsuit — have proven no “safer” than DOT-111 tank cars to begin with. And secondly, the lobbying and advocacy track records of both BNSF and AFPM demonstrate they both prefer the status quo over robust regulations, which would hurt their corporate bottom lines.

Purposeful or not then, at the end of the day, the lawsuit still serves as a distraction for the central issues in the oil-by-rail debate as the May deadline nears for PHMSA to publish its final regulations.

Image Credit: Cartoonresource | Shutterstock

Canada Transport Watchdog to Introduce New Tank Cars Ahead of Schedule

Repost from Insurance Journal (Reuters)

Canada Transport Watchdog to Introduce New Tank Cars Ahead of Schedule

By David Ljunggren | March 18, 2015
IN PHOTO: Tanker rail cars burn after a crude oil train derailment 50 miles (80 km) south of Timmins, Ontario, in this picture from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada taken in Gogama, Ontario, February 16, 2015. Canadian National Railway Co is still cleaning up spilled oil and removing damaged rail cars after a weekend derailment on its line at a remote site. The company said 29 of 100 cars on the train heading from Alberta’s tar sands to eastern Ontario derailed late on Saturday and seven caught fire. There were no injuries. Picture taken February 16, 2015. REUTERS/Transportation Safety Board of Canada/Handout via Reuters

Canada’s transportation watchdog said that recent fiery derailments of trains hauling crude oil mean a new generation of stronger tanker wagons should be introduced ahead of schedule.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is probing two accidents within the last month involving Canadian National Railway Co. oil trains which came off the tracks and caught fire near the small northern Ontario town of Gogama.

Both trains were hauling CPC-1232 crude tankers, meant to be safer than the older DOT-111 models that blew up in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013, killing 47 people. Canada last week unveiled tough standards for a new generation of tanker cars that would replace the CPC-1232s by 2025 at the latest.

“While the proposed standards look promising, the TSB has concerns about the implementation timeline, given initial observations of the performance of CPC-1232 cars in recent derailments,” the agency said in a release.

“If older tank cars, including the CPC-1232 cars, are not phased out sooner, then the regulator and industry need to take more steps to reduce the risk of derailments or consequences following a derailment carrying flammable liquids,” it said, but gave no details.

The agency said track failures may have played a role in each of the Gogama derailments as well as in the case of an oil train that left the tracks near Minnipuka, also in northern Ontario. No crude caught fire in that accident.

The TSB has issued a safety advisory letter asking the federal transport ministry to review the risk assessments conducted for the area.

“Petroleum crude oil unit trains transporting heavily-loaded tank cars will tend to impart higher than usual forces to the track infrastructure during their operation,” said the agency.

“These higher forces expose any weaknesses that may be present in the track structure, making the track more susceptible to failure.”

It noted trains traveling in the area were under orders to travel slowly to protect against various infrastructure and track maintenance issues.

CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the company “has enhanced its already rigorous infrastructure and mechanical inspection procedures on this northern Ontario rail corridor.”

The office of Transport Minister Lisa Raitt – which has overall responsibility for regulating the rail industry – was not immediately available for comment.

(Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

Related article:
Canada Proposes Tough New Oil Tank Car Standards

How many explosions before we stop crude-by-rail?

Repost from Oil Change International

How many explosions before we stop crude-by-rail?

Matt Maiorana, March 13, 2015

This past Saturday, it happened again. A train carrying highly volatile crude oil, in this case tar sands crude from Alberta, derailed in Ontario and caught fire, damaging a bridge in the blaze. This is the fourth time in as many weeks an oil train has derailed and caught fire or exploded.

That’s right, there have been FOUR oil train derailments in North America over the past month. Here’s what that looks like:

rail-blog v1

There’s clear outrage at the local level, but, so far, political action in Washington has been nearly nonexistent. Worse, some recent reports suggest the Obama administration ‘balked’ at dealing with the problem when considering it last year.

Government Inaction

The White House is the responsible party here and it’s time this issue be given the level of attention it deserves by President Obama. It has been 20 months since the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, but the President seems content pushing paper around while meeting with industry representatives.

As recently as last week dozens of industry representatives met with White House officials downplaying the need for strict safety regulations while an oil train in Illinois was still burning.

As it stands, draft safety standards put forth by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a part of the Department of Transportation, are awaiting final approval by the Obama Administration.

These new rules are a potentially important step, but the recent accidents make it clear even upgraded safety won’t be enough. All four accidents happened with “safer” oil tank cars, not the DOT-111 tankers widely known to be dangerous — and there are no reports any of the trains were going above the speed limit.

President Obama should adopt the strictest possible safety standards, but, at the end of the day, the only safe place for this oil is in the ground — we simply can’t afford to burn it for climate reasons and there’s no good way to transport it.

These Were No Minor Accidents

Let’s take a look at the recent derailments and why this past month demands more of a public response from Washington than it has received thus far:

  1. February 14, Ontario #1:
    • The train was going within the speed limit
    • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
    • The train was carrying tar sands crude
    • The resulting fire destroyed 900 feet of track and burned for 6 days
  2. February 16, West Virginia:
    • The train was going within the speed limit
    • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
    • The train was carrying Bakken oil
    • There were multiple massive explosions
    • The fires burned for days
    • Hundreds of families were evacuated and one person nearly lost his life
  3. March 5, Illinois:
    • The train was going within the speed limit
    • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
    • The train was carrying Bakken oil
    • The fire burned for days
    • Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path
  4. March 7, Ontario #2:
    • The train was going within the speed limit
    • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
    • The train was carrying tar sands crude
    • Canadian National Railway Co. is building a new 1,500ft track of railroad around the burning train wreckage. Seriously.

It is clear from this most recent spate of accidents that neither “safer” tank cars or the current speed limits are limiting the threat crude-by-rail poses to our communities. But that wasn’t the only lesson to be taken from these derailments. The other, just as significant, is that transporting tar sands isn’t necessarily safer than transporting Bakken crude — which we explain in detail in our recent blog post.

Up until now it had been widely believed that tar sands crude wasn’t as explosive or combustible as the oil coming from the Bakken region in North Dakota. The recent accidents have blown this assumption to pieces.

The New Normal?

If the oil industry gets its way, accidents like these will become the new normal. The Department of Transportation itself has found that crude oil trains are likely to derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades — and that’s a conservative estimate made with old data. This would cause more than $4 billion in damage and possibly kill HUNDREDS.

This is a government agency saying hundreds of people might die in fiery explosions because of the greed of a few private corporations, yet there has been little action taken to slow or stop the oil industry’s efforts.

Communities Take A Stand

While exploding oil trains are a frightening proposition, none of this should suggest pipelines are any better. Choosing between one or the other, as many oil insiders have suggested is necessary, is like choosing to get hit by a bus or a truck.

What’s needed is an urgent and rapid transition to renewable energy that doesn’t devastate the landscape, trample on indigenous and community rights, or cook the planet. Put simply: we need to keep the oil in the ground.

That’s the message President Obama needs to hear. While he considers the best course of action on the proposed PHMSA rules, it’s important for him to know that communities all over the country are rising up and taking a stand.

In some places they’re already winning, blocking oil terminals and getting in the way of proposed expansions.

Near Seattle, local organizers won a victory over Shell, which wants to build an oil train terminal to supply its Anacortes refinery. Shell’s plans now require a full-blown environmental review. And in California, communities are standing in the way of terminal expansions across the state.  (See  herehere and here.)

Even Governors, like Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, are asking the federal government for stronger oil train safety standards.

Our message is simple. If transporting oil can’t be done safely, don’t do it. Keep it in the ground. It’s time for President Obama to take this issue seriously and put in place a moratorium on all crude-by-rail shipments until community and climate safety can be guaranteed.

Derailments like the four over the past month are what an “All of the Above” energy strategy looks like and we’re not going to take it.


Update: While writing this article, another oil train derailed in Manitoba. Information is still coming out about this latest accident, though it appears to be smaller in scale. Still, that makes FIVE derailments involving trains carrying crude oil or refined oil products in under a month.