Tag Archives: Ed Greenberg

McClatchy investigative reports result in enforcement actions

Repost from McClatchy DC and The Bellingham Herald
[Editor:  McClatchy News investigative reports have alerted Washington State and federal officials, and resulted in fines and enforcement actions.  For background, see Washington state officials unaware at first of November oil spill (1/26); Officials say oil train leaked as it crossed Washington state (2/6); and Oil-loading facility sanctioned in Washington rail car spill (3/12).  Don’t miss the excellent video near the end of this story.  – RS]

More oil-train fixes: Feds order defective valves replaced on leaking cars

By Samantha Wohlfeil and Curtis Tate, March 13, 2015 
APTOPIX Train Derailment
Derailed oil tanker train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. A CSX train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm, sending a fireball into the sky and threatening the water supply of nearby residents, authorities and residents said Tuesday. MARCUS CONSTANTINO — AP

WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration on Friday ordered rail tank car owners to replace defective valves never approved for installation on thousands of tank cars, causing oil to spill from moving trains.

The directive applies to a 3-inch valve installed on roughly 6,000 tank cars, and their owners have 60 days to replace them. Within 90 days, tank car owners must also replace 37,000 1-inch and 2-inch valves manufactured by the same company. While the smaller valves were not found to be defective like the larger ones, they were not approved for the tank cars.

The affected cars can be used in the interim, but none can be loaded with hazardous materials if they are still equipped with those valves after the deadlines.

The enforcement action comes after a story last month in McClatchy’s Bellingham Herald about 14 tank cars that were discovered leaking en route from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

Friday’s enforcement action is the second to follow an investigation launched after McClatchy reported on leaking cars in Washington.

On Thursday, the agency said it had sanctioned the operator of a North Dakota loading facility for not properly closing a valve on another oil car after McClatchy reported in January that the car arrived at the BP Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington state with 1,600 gallons missing.

That spill was discovered in early November but wasn’t reported to state officials until early December. Local emergency officials were never notified, according to a report sent by BNSF Railway to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch valves were all manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining, a company in Tennessee. The Bellingham Herald could not immediately reach anyone at McKenzie, but left messages with the company Friday.

The Federal Railroad Administration also announced Friday that it was launching a full audit of the approval process for tank car components to determine why the unapproved valves were installed.

Under federal regulations, tank car valve designs must be approved by the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it would begin working immediately with the association, which is the rail industry’s principal trade group in the nation’s capital.

Sarah Feinberg, the FRA’s acting chief, said Friday that removal of the valves will help reduce the number of non-derailment releases of hazardous materials.

“Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” she said in a statement.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the railroad association, said Friday that it supported the order. Railroads don’t own most of the tank cars used to transport oil.

“Officials from our association will be working closely with the administration in reviewing the tank car valve approval process to ensure the agency is fully satisfied with the current approval requirements that are in place,” he said in a statement.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking oil from their top fittings on a handful of trains hauling different types of crude oil through Washington state.

In mid-January, a train loaded with Bakken crude needed to have more than a dozen leaking cars removed at three separate stops as it traveled through Idaho and crossed Washington state.

The train was headed from Tioga, N.D., to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

In a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, BNSF reported a total of 26 gallons of oil leaking from 14 cars. Tesoro reported two more leaking cars. The oil was found only on the tops and sides of tank cars, and no oil was found on the ground.

Crews had first noticed oil on the side of a tank car while the train was in northern Idaho, and after checking the rest of the train, removed that car, which had leaked about two gallons, according to BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace.

After the train had crossed through the state, following the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., crews found that crude oil had leaked onto the top of seven more cars, which were removed from the train on Jan. 12. BNSF reported the incident to the state Department of Ecology on Jan. 23.

BNSF also reported that about 10 gallons total had leaked from six more cars removed in Auburn on Jan. 13.

Wallace said the railroad would work with customers and shippers to take the required actions.

“Although BNSF does not own the tank cars, nothing is more important to us than safely operating through the communities that we serve,” she said in a statement.


The state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the FRA investigated the cars that were pulled from the train in Vancouver, which led to the discovery that closure plugs on the valves caused damage to the valve’s seal, and when tightened, would press down on and damage the ball.

The cars involved were CPC-1232 model cars built after 2011, which some oil companies have started using after several fiery derailments caused concerns about older DOT-111 rail cars, which have been found more likely to puncture or burst.

However, newer CPC-1232-standard cars that lack features that reduce damage from punctures and fire exposure have performed no better in four recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.

The White House Office of Management and budget is reviewing a new tank car standard proposed by the Department of Transportation. It is scheduled for publication on May 12.

Wohlfeil, of The Bellingham Herald, reported from Washington state. Tate reported from Washington, D.C.
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    LA TIMES: Crude-oil train wrecks raise questions about safety claims

    Repost from The Los Angeles Times
    [Editor:  Media coverage of late is quite repetitive, calling for better oil and rail safety standards.  This piece has significant new material, and is a must-read.  Quotes: “…about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.”  And, “Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and among the top safety experts in the country, believes the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains.  ‘We have never had a situation equivalent to 100 tank cars end to end traveling through local communities,’ Hall said. ‘This is probably the most pressing safety issue in the country. The industry has turned a deaf ear.'”  – RS]

    Crude-oil train wrecks raise questions about safety claims

    By Ralph Vartabedian, March 12, 2015 
    Oil train wreck in Ontario, Canada
    Flames erupt from the scene of a crude-oil train derailment Feb. 16 near Timmins, in Ontario, Canada. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

    Four accidents in the last month involving trains hauling crude oil across North America have sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, leaving some experts worried that public safety risks have been gravely underestimated.

    Crude trains have crashed in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Ontario, Canada, forcing evacuations of residents and causing extensive environmental contamination.

    The industry acknowledges that it needs to perform better, but says the trains are involved in derailments no more frequently than those hauling containers, grain or motor vehicles. Although the public doesn’t pay much attention, about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.

    Critics, however, say the industry’s position misses the point. All it is going to take is one major accident to change the entire calculus.

    Oil train wreck in Illiniois
    This crude-oil train derailment March 5 near Galena, Ill., was one of four in North America in the last month. (Mike Burley / Associated Press)

    Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and among the top safety experts in the country, believes the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains.

    “We have never had a situation equivalent to 100 tank cars end to end traveling through local communities,” Hall said. “This is probably the most pressing safety issue in the country. The industry has turned a deaf ear.”

    Crude shipments have skyrocketed from 29,605 cars in 2010 to 493,126 in 2014, though the growth rate appears to have flattened out over the last 12 months.

    As the shipments have grown, so has the number of accidents. The Assn. of American Railroads says there have been seven accidents that resulted in a spill of more than 5 gallons of oil in the last 18 months.

    The Times, based on public records and news accounts, found a total of 13 accidents in the U.S. and Canada since the July 2013 catastrophe at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in which 47 people died when a runaway oil train crashed into the center of the city.

    The crashes have occurred on bridges, along rivers, near downtowns and in the middle of farms, but none of them have caused the loss of human life since the Quebec accident.

    The key question is whether the industry is playing a game of Russian roulette, betting the trains will keep crashing in relatively safe rural sections of track.

    As long as the crashes do not threaten public safety, the economic losses to the petroleum companies do not appear to be a deterrent.

    Each tank car carries about 682 barrels of oil, worth about $33,000. A used tank car may be worth as little as $30,000, based on rail equipment broker websites. Thus, a derailment and loss of 15 cars with their crude could impose a loss of less than $1 million.

    Thomas D. Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, a trade group that represents tank car and other manufacturers, said the rail industry doesn’t have a lot of choice.

    Under federal law, it must carry any rail car that meets federal specifications. It means that when the petroleum industry fills a tank car with crude, the freight lines don’t have the option of telling them to take their business elsewhere.

    “They are betting their railroad that they are not going to blow up Los Angeles,” Simpson said.

    He said the industry had committed to a significant improvement in safety, in which tank cars would have heavier shells, crash shields and stronger valves. And it would retrofit existing cars with stronger shields and thermal protection that would delay fires or explosions.

    Simpson is confident that there is nothing about tank cars that makes them more likely to derail than any other type of rail car. “Tank cars don’t slosh and start rocking back and forth,” he said. “I asked that too.”

    The question remains why the crude-oil trains are crashing and whether they are crashing for the same reasons as other freight trains.

    Brigham McCown, former chief of the federal agency that sets tank car rules, said he believed the string of recent accidents had resulted from extreme weather this winter. The introduction of continuous welded track has made rails more vulnerable to expansion and contraction during temperature swings, experts say.

    Another big unknown is human error, which accounted for 38% of all accidents in 2014. The Federal Railroad Administration is still investigating the specific causes of many recent crude train accidents, but it appears so far that none in the U.S. has involved a clear-cut case of human error.

    Bill Kibben, a rail safety consultant who has worked for major railroads and government agencies, said accidents seldom occurred at a statistically even rate. “It is going to happen and it is going to be catastrophic,” Kibben said.

    Historically, human error accidents have accounted for some of the most serious losses of life.

    A decade ago, human error resulted in a train hauling chlorine gas to crash into a parked train on a siding, releasing poison gas that killed nine people and injured 250 others in Graniteville, S.C. In 2008, human error caused a head-on collision between a Metrolink train and a freight train in Chatsworth, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others.

    Kibben said that train crews were often affected by health concerns and fatigue, as well. In 2013, four people were killed in the Bronx, N.Y., when a train engineer sped into a curve, an error he later attributed to being in a daze.

    “We recognize the public’s deep concern,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the railroad association. “We acknowledge we need to work with other stakeholders.”

    Under a deal worked out last year with the Federal Railroad Administration, the rail industry agreed to operate crude trains at a maximum speed of 50 mph and slow down to 40 mph through some urban areas.

    Greenberg said the U.S. rail industry had driven down its accident rate by 42% since 2000, making 2014 its safest year on record.

    But environmentalists say safety rates for explosive products should not be compared to other merchandise.

    “There should be a moratorium on crude trains until sufficient protective measures are in place at the federal level,” said Mollie Matteson, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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