Tank car upgrades effective in derailments, Canadian report shows
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, June 19, 2015
Tank car improvements required by the U.S. and Canadian governments last month should cut the risk of spills and fires in oil train accidents, Canadian investigators have concluded.
The finding came from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s investigation of on a derailment in January 2014 in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.
While the report pinpointed a broken wheel as the cause, the derailment provided a rare side-by-side comparison of the performance of two different types of tank cars in use for decades on the North American rail system.
A type of tank car called the DOT-112 survived the Plaster Rock derailment with no impact damage, according to the report, released Friday. Four such cars carrying butane derailed.
In contrast, two DOT-111 cars carrying crude oil sustained punctures, spilling more than 60,000 gallons. The spilled oil caught fire.
The DOT-112 cars have features very similar to the new DOT-117 standard unveiled by regulators on May 1. Both include half-inch thick shields that fully protect both ends of the car, thicker 9/16-inch shells and thermal insulation around the tank shell enclosed with an additional layer of steel.
Typically, the DOT-111 cars have 7/16-inch shells and none of the other protections.
As McClatchy reported last year, the DOT-112 was beefed up after a series of catastrophic tank car explosions in the 1970s that killed railroad workers and firefighters and caused extensive property damage. After the 112 was upgraded, the accidents subsided.
But the DOT-111 fleet remained unchanged, even when railroads began hauling larger quantities of ethanol a decade ago, followed by crude oil five years ago.
The Canadian report lists 13 other rail accidents involving crude oil or ethanol since 2005 that illustrate the vulnerabilities of the DOT-111. Three of those derailments took place this year, including two in Ontario and one in West Virginia.
The list also includes the 2013 disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which resulted in 47 fatalities. The families of the victims and their attorneys earlier this month unanimously ratified a proposed $350 million settlement package.
The U.S. Department of Transportation last month required that new tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol meet the DOT-117 standard beginning in October. Tank car owners, which are typically railcar manufacturers, financial firms and energy companies, must comply with a series of retrofit deadlines for DOT-111 cars that are spread out over a decade.
The oil industry says the timeline is too short, while environmentalists say it’s too long. Both have since taken the department to court.
Exclusive: CN Rail derailment numbers soared before recent crashes
By Allison Martell, Mar 23, 2015 5:37am EDT
(Reuters) – Canadian National Railway’s safety record deteriorated sharply in 2014, reversing years of improvements, as accidents in Canada blamed on poor track conditions hit their highest level in more than five years, a Reuters analysis has found.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said on Tuesday that track failure may have played a role in CN’s three recent Ontario accidents, which have fueled calls for tougher regulation. The agency said oil unit trains, made up entirely of tank cars, could make tracks more susceptible to failure.
Data obtained under access to information laws and analyzed by Reuters shows a broader trend, which has not been previously reported, and could pile more pressure on CN Rail to slow down trains or reduce their length. A crackdown on oil trains could raise the cost of shipping Canadian crude by rail.
Trains operated by CN in Canada derailed along main lines 57 times in 2014, up 73 percent from 33 in 2013 and well above a 2009-2013 average of 39 accidents per year. On CN’s full 21,000 mile (33,800 km) network, which also includes the Midwestern and southern United States, freight carloads rose 8 percent last year.
At least 27 of the domestic derailments were caused by track problems, up from a previous annual average of 14. Data for smaller rival Canadian Pacific Railway showed no similar pattern.
“CN is keenly aware of its recent safety trends, starting with a sudden increase of its accident rate in 2014,” Canada’s biggest railway said in a response to Reuters’ analysis.
The railway pointed out that its performance improved between 2007 and 2013, and so far, 2015 has been better than 2014. It said it was reviewing recent trends and has started testing tracks more frequently, boosted spending on infrastructure and installed new technology to detect problems with its tracks and equipment.
For 2015 it is planning to increase capital spending by C$300 million, to C$2.6 billion ($2.1 billion).
The rapid rise of crude by rail traffic has made more derailments potentially deadly, exposing railways to more scrutiny, particularly since 2013, when a runaway oil train leveled the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.
Doug Finnson, president of a Teamsters union representing CN Rail’s train crews, said he was particularly concerned with the recent Ontario derailments.
“We’re on the record saying the trains are too long, the cars are too heavy, and the trains go too fast.”
Yet it is not clear what was behind CN’s poor safety performance last year.
New Brunswick farmer Paul-Emile Soucy, who experienced CN’s troubles first-hand, faults inadequate maintenance.
On Jan. 26, 2014, a CN train derailed crossing his 230-year-old family farm. He said CN workers had marked railroad ties that needed to be replaced months before the accident, but they were replaced only after the derailment.
“They knew that the ties were bad and rotten and had to be replaced, but they didn’t do anything about it,” said Soucy. Data obtained by Reuters indicates that a broken rail caused the derailment.
But CN rejected Soucy’s criticism, saying it spent C$41 million on basic maintenance in the area between 2012 and 2014.
The railway blamed bad weather and increased freight volume for last year’s spike in derailments. Rough weather, however, did not prevent rival Canadian Pacific from improving its safety performance, and the rise in volume was far less pronounced than the jump in derailments.
Both railways shipped similar volumes of crude last year – CN moved 128,000 carloads, or some 2 percent of its freight volume, and CP moved 110,000 carloads, 4 percent of its total.
The safety watchdog TSB has suggested that oil trains may have contributed to track problems that caused the Ontario accidents, but declined to comment on whether those trains could also be behind the overall rise in derailments, or comment on Reuters’ analysis in general.
Transport Canada, the industry’s main regulator, also did not comment specifically on Reuters’ findings, but spokesman Zach Segal noted that Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has asked a parliamentary committee to invite CN Rail to discuss its operations.
CN suggested last year could have been an outlier.
“It’s important to view CN’s safety performance over a span of time to assess meaningful trend lines, not just on the basis of a single or two-year perspective,” the railway said.
Its own statistics, shared with Reuters, show that its Canadian accident rate declined 26 percent from 2007 to 2013, to 1.71 accidents per million train miles. In 2014, the rate jumped to 2.67, its highest in at least a decade, but it is down to 2.15 so far this year. A less commonly used measure, accidents per billion gross ton miles, has improved markedly over the last decade, but jumped 58 percent in 2014.
(See related INTERACTIVE map of Major Oil Train Derailmentsin the U.S. and Canada since 2013: here)
Reuters’ analysis showed last year’s spike in accidents was driven mainly by track problems.
Ian Naish, a former director of rail and pipeline investigations at the TSB, said weather and traffic could have played a role, but one should also consider the impact of unit trains, which carry single commodities, on tracks.
“The intensity of loading is heavier than a mixed-freight train, generally,” said Naish. “All the cars are the same design, and the loads are all the same, so it’s the same impact, the same way, all the time.”
Unit trains have long been used to carry coal, grain and other commodities, but oil trains are a product of the rise of crude by rail and the shale boom of the past few years.
CN declined to comment on its recent accidents in Ontario, citing ongoing investigations. It said, however, that it had seen no indication that unit trains cause accidents, noting that such trains carrying other commodities, many with heavier loads, have run safely for decades. But the railway said it was reviewing the issue with outside experts.
($1 = 1.2549 Canadian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)
Trains in Canada derailments carried synthetic crude for Valero
TORONTO, Mar 10, 2015 12:56pm EDT
(Reuters) – The two oil trains that derailed and burst into flames in recent weeks in northern Ontario were both carrying synthetic crude to Valero Energy Corp’s refinery near Quebec City, the U.S.-based company said on Tuesday.
Saturday’s CN Rail derailment came less than a month after another CN train carrying oil went off the tracks and ignited in northern Ontario. The railway had said both were carrying crude from Alberta, but declined to give their exact destination.
“We take safety very seriously, so we’re concerned anytime there’s an incident,” said Valero spokesman Bill Day. “Despite the number of rail incidents recently, it is very rare for cargo not to be delivered to its destination safely.”
Day said all of the rail companies Valero works with, including CN Rail, have good safety records.
Synthetic crude is produced from Alberta’s oil sands in upgrader plants, and usually commands a premium to conventional crudes because it is lighter and easier to refine into valuable byproducts such as gasoline.
Valero’s Jean Gaulin refinery is in Levis, across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.
In May 2013, the company said it would build a rail off-loading facility at the Jean Gaulin refinery so it could start using Western Canadian crude rather than relying on pricier imports. The company told Reuters it would take light, sweet Western Canadian crude rather than heavier oil sands crude.
Shipments of North American crude to the refinery ramped up early last year. On a July earnings call, the company said North American grades made up 83 percent of the refinery’s feedstock in the second quarter of 2014, up from 45 percent in the first quarter and 8 percent higher than a year earlier.
Separately on Tuesday, CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the train that derailed in February had been carrying petroleum distillates in addition to synthetic crude.
“The contents of the tank cars are a subject of interest and the TSB will be testing the contents to determine what they were,” said John Cottreau, spokesman for Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incidents.
In a note to shippers on Tuesday, CN said a temporary bypass track would likely be completed by late afternoon, reopening its main line in northern Ontario.
(Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto, and Scott Haggett and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Alan Crosby)