Tag Archives: DOT-111 tank cars

Davis City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

Repost from The Davis Enterprise
[Editor: Breaking news … DAVIS, CA – On Tuesday evening, 9/2/14, the Davis City Council approved the letter as written (but with minor editorial changes) and directed staff to submit it to the City of Benicia for the record.  The DRAFT letter can be seen here.  – RS]

City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

By Elizabeth Case, September 3, 2014

The Davis City Council has released a draft of the letter it plans to send to the city of Benicia in response to the Valero crude-by-rail project’s draft environmental impact report.

The project would build out the Valero refinery’s capacity to unload oil from rail cars, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments, likely from Roseville to Benicia along the Capitol Corridor rail line. That line passes right through downtown Davis.

Draft environmental impact reports are required for projects that could have significant impacts on their surroundings. Notably, this report found the risk of an accident — a derailment and spill — to be an insignificant risk, while the additional trains would have a significant air quality impact.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Chambers at City Hall to vote on the language contained in the letter. The letter, as it stands, argues that the assessment is both misleading and incomplete, and focuses on a few main concerns:

* The report’s failure to address a May emergency order and an August notice from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The former requires railroads transporting more than 35 cars, or 1 million gallons, of North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil in a single shipment to notify state emergency response commissions. The latter includes a report about improving vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

* A request that Benicia mandate the use of the newer 1232 tank cars. These have thicker shells and other improvements over “legacy” — DOT 111 — cars, which have been involved in most of past decade’s oil-by-rail accidents.

However, 1232 cars were involved in at least one derailment in Lynchburg, Va., in April. Benicia cannot legally require Valero or Union Pacific to use a specific type of car, since railroads fall under federal jurisdiction.

Valero spokesperson Chris Howe has previously confirmed that the company would use only the 1232 cars to transport oil.

* A lack of information on where and how Valero might store the crude oil, if it isn’t used right away. Specifically, Davis is concerned that the siding between Interstate 80 and Second Street in Davis could, and might already, be used for the storage of crude oil.

In addition to the above concerns, the Davis City Council requests an investigation into the current conditions of the railroad line from Roseville to Benicia.

The letter also alleges that the EIR fails to account for fire or explosions in its assessment of damage caused by release of hazardous materials, that it fails to take a magnitude of such a spill into account, and that it does not assess all the possible routes for the crude oil to be shipped to the Valero refinery.

The letter also requests that advance notice of shipments be made to city of Davis and Yolo County authorities — information oil companies have been tight-lipped about, citing terrorism concerns.

If Valero is importing Bakken crude at amounts specified in the transportation department’s order, it will have to inform the state commission. Assembly Bill 380, which was approved Friday, would require flow data and other information to be submitted about a company’s top 25 hazardous materials, including oil from the Bakkens, though it would continue to keep the information out of the public realm.

Davis’ comments draw strongly from those already filed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and Yolo County.

Davis City Council member Lucas Frerichs, who also sits on SACOG’s Rail Ad Hoc Committee, said the council understands the need for oil imports, but doesn’t believe the environmental assessment adequately assesses potential dangers.

“It’s going to come in by rail, we just need to make sure it’s done safely,” Frerichs said. “(But the report) absolutely needs to be adjusted in order to protect the safety of citizens up and down the rail corridor.”

The council passed a unanimous resolution in April opposing oil by rail until safety issues, like better warning signs about speed changes, have been addressed.

“Our read of it — even if the risk is only once in every 111 years, if there was a catastrophic explosion, especially in our downtown, it would obviously have a great impact on our community, on lives on our property,” said Mike Webb, the city’s community development and sustainability director and author of the letter.

“Even if that was only once in 111 years, that’s once too much.’

If the Benicia Planning Commission acknowledges the concerns voiced by Davis, it would require a reissue and recirculation of the EIR, delaying the project. Representatives for the commission could not be reached before deadline.

“It would slow the process down, but I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing,” Webb said,” because we’re asking for more information and disclosure about what the project is.”

Interested parties have until Sept. 15 to submit a comment on the EIR before the Benicia Planning Commission begins its review.

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    The risk to Lake Champlain

    Repost from The Burlington Free Press
    [Editor: What do pristine California waters and Lake Champlain (in upstate New York) have in common?  Would you believe oil trains?  – RS]

    The risk to Lake Champlain

     Mike Winslow, August 15, 2014

    The sound of trains clacking along the rails that abut Lake Champlain has become more common with the dramatic increase in freight traffic attributed to fossil fuel extraction.

    Each week approximately 60 million gallons of oil travel along the lake carried by 20 trains with up to 100 cars each. Nearly half of these shipments carry the volatile Bakken crude.

    The U.S. meets 66 percent of its crude oil demand from production in North America with tremendous growth in outputs from Canada and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. In October 2013, U.S. crude production exceeded imports for the first time since February 1995.

    Oil produced from the Bakken fields is light. That means it flows easily, but it also means it is more volatile and flammable.

    As a result, the potential property damage and loss of life associated with rail accidents involving Bakken oil is higher than oil from other sources.

    In January, two federal agencies issued a safety alert warning of these risks.

    The alert was triggered by a series of devastating accidents. Federal Railroad Administration statistics suggest that on average, at least one car slips off the tracks every day. There have been six major derailments since the beginning of 2013.

    The most infamous occurred July 5, 2013, in Lac Megantic, Quebéc. An improperly secured train rolled on its own, and 63 cars derailed near the center of town, leading to multiple explosions and fires, evacuation of 2,000 people and 47 deaths.

    There have been unsettling precedents:

    • October 19, 2013: 13 tank cars derailed in Alberta leading to evacuation of 100 residents. Three cars carrying propane burned following an explosion.

    • November 8, 2013: 30 cars derailed in a wetland near Aliceville, Alabama and about a dozen were decimated by fire.

    • December 30, 2013: two trains, one carrying grain and one oil, collided in Casselton, North Dakota. Twenty of the oil train cars derailed and exploded leading to evacuation of 1,400 people.

    • January 7, 2014: 17 cars derailed in New Brunswick and five exploded leading to evacuation of 45 people.

    • January 20, 2014: Seven cars derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, though no oil leaked.

    • More recently, 15-17 cars derailed in Lynchburg, Va., on April 30. Three fell into the James River and one burst into flames. There were no injuries, but 300-350 people had to be evacuated, and oil leaked into the James River. The state estimated 20,000 to 25,000 gallons escaped during the wreck.

    Our region is no stranger to train derailments. In 2007, a northbound Vermont Railways freight train derailed in Middlebury, spilling gasoline into Otter Creek and leading to the evacuation of 30 streets in the vicinity.

    Trains have also derailed along the Lake Champlain route. In 2007, 12 cars derailed near Route 22 in Essex, N.Y., the same stretch of tracks now carrying volatile oil.

    Concern over the state of North American freight rail safety predates the increase in oil shipments.

    In 2006 the Toronto Star ran a five-part series on rail safety. The newspaper noted, “Canadian freight trains are running off the rails in near record numbers and spilling toxic fluids at an alarming rate, but only a tiny fraction of the accidents are ever investigated.”

    The greatly increased traffic in oil has further strained railroad infrastructure. According to an article in Pacific Standard Magazine, 85 percent of the 92,000 tank cars that haul flammable liquids around the nation are standard issue DOT-111s. They have been referred to as “Pepsi cans on wheels.”

    These cars are built to carry liquids but lack specialized safety features found in pressurized tanks used for hauling explosive liquids. The industry has agreed to include additional safety features in any new cars put on the tracks, but since rail cars have an economic life of 30-40 years, conversion to the newer cars has been slow.

    One relatively new risk is the predominance of “unit trains.” These are long series of cars all shipped from the same originating point to the same destination.

    Often the cars will all carry the same product. It used to be that oil cars were mixed in with other freight cars bound for different locations. Unit trains are a greater risk in part because safety standards are based on the carrying capacity of a single car and don’t account for the greater volumes that unit trains can transport.

    The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating accidents, has called on the Federal Railroad Administration to change this standard.

    Recently, an oil company submitted plans to build an oil heating facility in Albany, N.Y. The facility would be used to heat oil shipped via rail. The oil would then be transferred to barges and floated to refineries.

    If permitted, a heating facility would draw increased transport of Canadian tar sands, which needs to be diluted or heated for loading or unloading, through the Lake Champlain region.

    In contrast to Bakken field oil, tar sands oil is heavy. Cleanup of tar sands oil following accidents is extremely challenging. The oil sinks rather than floating, making containment difficult.

    When a pipeline carrying tar sands oil broke near Kalamazoo, Mich., 850,000 gallons spilled. The resulting cleanup cost more than $1 billion (yes, $1 billion), and costs were “substantially higher than the average cost of cleaning up a similar amount of conventional oil,” according to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service.

    In November 2013, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation declared the proposed facility would have no significant environmental impacts.

    However, public outrage led the department to reconsider that declaration, expand the public comment period and seek additional information from the proponents.

    Still, the additional requested information touches only the tip of the facility’s impacts on the region. The facility should undergo a full environmental impact review that includes potential impacts on freight shipping throughout the region including along Lake Champlain.

    In July, the Department of Transportation proposed new rules on rail safety. They include a phase-out of DOT-111s during the next few years, tightened speed limits, improved brakes and permanent requirements for railroads to share data with state emergency managers.

    The federal department is accepting comments on the proposed rules until Sept. 30 and hopes to finalize them by the end of the year.

    It’s a step in the right direction, but way too slow on getting rid of these risky cars. Delays in updating standards puts people, communities, Lake Champlain and other waterways at risk. The administration needs to act before another disaster like what occurred in Lac Megantic occurs here or elsewhere.

    Train whistles echoing off the waters of the lake should elicit wistful thoughts of faraway places, not shudders of dread.

    Mike Winslow is the staff scientist at Burlington-based nonprofit Lake Champlain Committee.

    Rail concerns

    A forum on rail transportation of crude oil along the western shore of Lake Champlain is planned for 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Aug. 24 at Plattsburgh City Hall.

    For more information, contact the Lake Champlain Committee at lcc@lakechamplaincommittee.org or (802) 658-1414.
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      Canada may require new electronically controlled brakes (and other measures) for oil trains … by 2020

      Repost from the Globe and Mail, Ottawa, Canada
      [Editor: Significant quote: “Electronically controlled air brakes are favoured by some rail-safety advocates because they allow an engineer to apply the brakes on all of a train’s cars at the same time – regardless of how close they are to the locomotive.  In contrast, traditional air brakes rely on a signal that begins from the locomotive and moves car by car toward the back of the train. On longer unit trains such as those typically used to haul crude oil, rail cars near the back of the train won’t receive the signal as quickly, increasing the risk of a derailment when the brakes are applied suddenly.”  – RS]

      Putting the brakes on train derailment

      By Kim Mackrael, Aug. 15 2014

      The federal government is mulling a plan to require new electronically controlled air brakes for rail cars that haul dangerous goods such as crude oil and ethanol after a series of explosive oil-train derailments in Canada and the United States.

      A consultation document sent to the railway transportation industry last month laid out Transport Canada’s proposal for a new class of tank car, including the new air brake system and full head shields to prevent punctures. Older-model DOT-111 tank cars have been heavily criticized as prone to puncture and corrosion.

      Electronically controlled air brakes are favoured by some rail-safety advocates because they allow an engineer to apply the brakes on all of a train’s cars at the same time – regardless of how close they are to the locomotive.

      In contrast, traditional air brakes rely on a signal that begins from the locomotive and moves car by car toward the back of the train. On longer unit trains such as those typically used to haul crude oil, rail cars near the back of the train won’t receive the signal as quickly, increasing the risk of a derailment when the brakes are applied suddenly.

      Don Ross, who led the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into last year’s rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., said the agency generally supports the use of the electronically controlled brakes because they can improve rail safety, particularly on longer trains. “It’s encouraging, now, that they’ve got out for discussion a very good standard,” Mr. Ross said in a recent interview.

      “We would be very happy to see the industry adopt that.”

      Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told The Globe and Mail on Friday that she had already begun consultations on the matter, but has so far heard that the industry does not believe electronically controlled air brakes are necessary. “The ones that I’ve been speaking to say it’s too difficult to implement in the North American market,” Ms. Raitt said, adding, “That’s the consultation so far, but we’re still gathering information right now.”

      One concern with electronically controlled brakes is that the system would need to be installed on all of a train’s cars for it to function properly, a factor that would limit railways’ flexibility in assembling longer or mixed trains.

      In addition to the new air brake system, the proposed new standard includes full head shields to prevent puncture, improved top-fitting protection for the pressure release valve, mandatory thermal jackets to prevent overheating, and new standards for bottom outlet valves to prevent leaks during an accident.

      The standard goes beyond requirements announced in April for a three-year phaseout or retrofit of pre-2011 tank cars used to haul crude oil. Those rules included half-head shields, top-fitting protection and thicker steel.

      The new proposal would give industry until May, 2020, to start using the next-generation cars to move the most dangerous flammable liquids, classified as Packing Group 1. New or retrofitted cars would be required for moderately dangerous flammable liquids by May, 2022, and for all flammable liquids by May, 2025.

      A spokesperson for Canadian Pacific said on Friday that the company is evaluating Transport Canada’s proposal, but did not comment on any specific aspect of the proposed change. Canadian National said it is reviewing the proposal and would provide comments to the regulator as part of the consultation process.

      Last month, U.S. regulators issued three possible requirements for next-generation DOT-111 tank cars.

      The toughest standards proposed by the U.S. are similar to the Transport Canada proposal and include electronically controlled air brakes.

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