Tag Archives: Evacuation zone

5.7 Million children attend U.S. schools in an oil train blast zone – sign the petition

Repost from ForestEthics

Here’s a number you need to see: 57 MILLION CHILDREN

Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. safety officials and railroad execs: No More Oil Train Secrets. The first step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release critical documents that the rail companies are hiding from the public. (Click on the image and SIGN on the right side of the page.)

Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. safety officials and railroad execs: No More Oil Train Secrets. The first step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release critical documents that the rail companies are hiding from the public.

5.7 Million K-12 age children attend U.S. schools in the oil train blast zone–the area that must be evacuated in case of a derailment or fire from an oil train.

Massive growth of oil train traffic–over 5,000% since 2008 in the U.S.–means more derailments, oil spills into waterways, and massive explosions. 2015 alone has seen five explosive derailments in the U.S. and Canada. We now know that oil trains threaten 5,728,044 million children in 15,848 schools every day in the U.S. Our children deserve better.

But we don’t even know the details on the dangers of these trains–and neither do our first responders or our elected leaders. We don’t know because oil train companies like BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National are keeping four critical types of information hidden:

  1. The routing choices they make through cities, towns and sensitive areas;
  2. The worst case scenario models they create for your town;
  3. The insurance amount they have to cover themselves; and
  4. Their emergency response plans when the unthinkable happens.

We are calling these documents The Oil Train Secrets. The Federal Railroad Administration, the agency in the U.S. that is responsible for making the companies release these documents, isn’t doing its job–and neither is its boss, the U.S. Department of Transportation. But our future and our children are too important to let these critical documents stay secret.

Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. transportation officials (and the Railroad Execs themselves): the next step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release The Oil Train Secrets.


To: US Safety Officials and Railroad Executives
From: [Your Name]

To: Anthony Foxx of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Sarah Feinberg, Director of the Federal Railroad Administration
Re: Request for Release of Documents

Secretary Foxx and Director Feinberg:

On Tuesday, September 8th, 2015, ForestEthics released its estimate of the number of K-12 age students in schools in the evacuation zone for oil trains: 5.7 million. 5.7 million K-12 age students are among the 25 million Americans living in this blast zone.

Many local emergency planning and response agencies have testified in Congress and state and local legislatures that, in the absence of railroad risk analyses, they have been struggling to develop their own ability to respond to potential crude oil derailments. Local safety officials need information to protect our communities, especially schools. In the interests of public safety, we are formally asking your assistance in releasing the following documents:

1. Rail Companies own calculated Worst Case Scenarios for a potential oil train emergency in urban and sensitive environmental locales. Local and state officials have stated that they have never seen this essential crude oil release scenario information.

2. We also need to see rail company documentation on the levels of catastrophic insurance coverage each railroad company has been able to buy for potential serious releases in each jurisdiction. The insurers apparently have seen the railroads’ Worst Case Scenarios and have demonstrated a healthy and cautious concern about the scale of costly disasters that their companies might be responsible for covering. If the insurers can see it, so can the public.

3. We require the rail companies’ internal Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans for high hazard flammable trains (oil trains), both generic and for specific typical locations, urban and rural.

4. We also need rail companies’ up-to-now secret route analysis documentation and route selection results in each jurisdiction, pursuant to Congress’s 2007 Public Law 110-53, for urban hazmat safety and security routing for the currently covered cargoes of chlorine and ammonia, as well as for the newly-recognized “key trains” of crude oil and ethanol.

We are publicly demanding that you promptly assist the rail companies, who will be receiving a copy of this letter, to provide these key risk documents, up to now withheld from public view. Not only because our first responders and governments need them, but because our communities have a right to know to what chemical disaster risks various hazardous operations are exposing them. It is our assessment that the publication of these documents would aid your agencies in protecting the public and assisting first responders. Our children deserve nothing less than the safest learning environment and the best-informed first responders.

Sincerely,

ForestEthics and the undersigned,

++++++++++

Cc: Matt Rose
Executive Chairman, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad

Cc: John Koraleski
CEO, Union Pacific

Cc: Michael Ward
CEO, CSX

Cc: James Squires
CEO, Norfolk Southern

Cc: E. Hunter Harrison
CEO, Canadian Pacific

Cc: Claude Mongeau
CEO, Canadian National

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    Half Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

    Repost from DeSmogBlog
    [Editor:  See the more detailed interactive map of schools by the Center for Biological Diversity.  Note Benicia’s Robert Semple Elementary School on the Center’s map, located just 0.88 miles from a Union Pacific train route which currently carries hazardous materials and is proposed for Valero Refinery’s Crude By Rail project.  Here’s a map of Robert Semple school and the tracks.  – RS] 

    Half a Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

    By Justin Mikulka, September 7, 2015 – 04:58

    A new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that 500,000 students in California attend schools within a half-mile of rail tracks used by oil trains, and more than another 500,000 are within a mile of the tracks.

    “Railroad disasters shouldn’t be one of the ‘three Rs’ on the minds of California school kids and their parents,” said Valerie Love with the Center. “Oil trains have jumped the tracks and exploded in communities across the country. These dangerous bomb trains don’t belong anywhere near California’s schools or our children.”

    Click for larger image

    Current safety regulations for first responders dealing with oil trains recommend evacuating everyone within a half-mile of any incident with an oil train. This wasn’t much of a problem for the most recent oil train accident in July in Culbertson, Montana because there were only 30 people within the half-mile radius area. However, in populated areas like California, potential scenarios could involve large-scale evacuations and casualties.

    In addition to the threat posed to California’s students, the report Crude Injustice on the Rails released earlier this year by ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment, pointed out that in California the communities within the half-mile blast zones were also more likely to be low-income minority neighborhoods.

    As more communities across the country become aware of the very real risks these oil trains pose, opposition is mounting to new oil-by-rail projects as well as challenges to existing facilities.

    This past week in California, the Santa Clara County board of supervisors voted to keep oil trains out, citing an “unacceptable risk to our community.”

    In Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) held a hearing on the subject and heard from concerned residents like Catherine Dorr, as reported by the local CBS station.

    We’re in the 100 foot blast zone,” Dorr said. “My house and 60 townhouse residents are going to be toast if there’s an explosion.”

    In Albany, New York which is the largest oil-by-rail hub on the East coast, this week a coalition of groups announced their intentions to sue the oil company transporting Bakken crude through Albany and challenge the validity of the air quality permit the company received in 2012.

    And even in remote places like North Dakota, where much of the oil originates, the U.S. military is concerned about the proximity of the oil train tracks to nuclear missile facilities.

    With all of this concern about the dangers of oil trains, a new report by the Associated Press (AP) paints a troubling picture about the preparedness of populated areas to respond to an oil-by-rail incident. The report was based on interviews with emergency management professionals in 12 large cities across the U.S.

    It concludes, “The responses show emergency planning remains a work in progress even as crude has become one of the nation’s most common hazardous materials transported by rail.”

    As noted on DeSmog, one of the reasons that the oil trains pose such a high risk is that the oil industry refuses to stabilize the oil to make it safe to transport. And the new regulations for oil-by-rail transport released this year allow for older unsafe tank cars to be used for another 8-10 years.

    While the regulations require modernized braking systems on oil trains in future years, the rail industry is fighting this and a Senate committee recently voted to remove this from the regulations.

    The reality is that unless there are drastic changes made, anyone living within a half mile of these tracks will be at risk for years to come.

    And while oil production isn’t increasing in the U.S. right now due to the low price of oil, industry efforts to lift the current ban on exporting crude oil could result in a huge increase in fracked oil production. In turn, that oil will be put on trains that will head to coastal facilities and be loaded on tankers and sent to Asia.

    Despite all of the opposition and the years-long process to complete new regulations, as the Associated Press notes, it isn’t like the emergency first responders are comfortable with the current situation.

    “There could be a huge loss of life if we have a derailment, spill and fire next to a heavily populated area or event,” said Wayne Senter, executive director of the Washington state association of fire chiefs. “That’s what keeps us up at night.”

    And even the federal regulators expect there are going to be catastrophic accidents. As reported by the AP earlier this year, the Department of Transportation expects oil and ethanol trains “will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.”

    With the known risks and the number of accidents, so far communities in the U.S have avoided disaster. But as Senator Franken pointed out, that has just been a matter of luck.

    We’ve been lucky here in Minnesota and North Dakota and Wisconsin that we’ve not seen that kind of fatalities, but we don’t want this to be all about luck,” Sen. Franken said.

    As over 1,000,000 students in California start a new school year in schools where they can easily hear the train whistles from the oil trains passing through their communities, let’s all hope we keep this lucky streak going.

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      Derailed oil train’s crew told investigators they had seconds to escape

      Repost from McClatchy Washington Bureau

      Derailed oil train’s crew told investigators they had seconds to escape

      By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 27, 2015

      The engineer and conductor on a BNSF oil train that derailed in North Dakota in December 2013 had seconds to escape their locomotive before it was engulfed by fire, according to interview transcripts made available Monday by federal accident investigators.

      The interviews, conducted in January 2014 by the National Transportation Safety Board, show the occupational risks railroad workers face, especially with trains carrying hazardous materials. The train’s engineer is suing BNSF, and says the wreck left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

      They also show that emergency responders did not initially understand the severity of the situation they faced when two trains derailed near Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30, 2013. One of them was carrying grain, and the other, crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

      The train’s engineer, Bryan Thompson, told investigators that he had only seconds to react before the oil train, traveling 43 mph, hit a derailed grain car in its path.

      He activated the emergency braking system, but he knew from nine years of experience that virtually nothing could stop the 13,335 tons of train behind him from going off the track. He told his conductor to hit the floor and brace for impact.

      “I knew what was coming,” he told investigators, “and I honestly said a prayer. It was really quick.”

      Thompson and the conductor, Pete Riepl, were not injured when the locomotive came to rest. But almost immediately, they noticed that the train was on fire, and they needed to get away. They couldn’t exit through the front of the locomotive: The impact with the overturned grain car had jammed the door.

      Their only choice was to exit through the back of the locomotive, which forced them to go toward the rapidly encroaching fire.

      “That’s the last place you want to go,” Thompson said, “ but it was our only escape.”

      Riepl told investigators that the pair got about 200 yards away before they looked back and saw that their locomotive was engulfed in flames.

      He also said that several minutes after the derailment, tank cars began exploding, in succession, one about every 10 minutes.

      Thompson left his belongings in the locomotive cab, save for his coat _ it was about 20 degrees below zero that day _ and cellphone. He called 911. The dispatcher asked him if she needed to call the local fire department.

      “I said, ‘you need to call every fire department,’” Thompson said he told the dispatcher.

      The 911 dispatcher instructed Thompson to report to the incident command center established at a local high school. Once there, Thompson said he could hear over radio chatter that people were watching the train burn. In similar situations, authorities usually recommend a half-mile evacuation radius.

      “I don’t think you understand what’s going on here,” he said he told a deputy sheriff. “You need to get those people away from there.”

      Thompson asked the deputy if he knew about the deadly oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people in July 2013. He told the deputy that his train was carrying the same kind of cargo: Bakken crude.

      “And his eyes got big, you know,” Thompson said, “then he said ‘Code Red’ on his radio.”

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        1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment

        Repost from Vindi.com, Youngstown OH
        [Editor:  Quoting Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for the Association of American Railroads: “We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard.”   – RS]

        1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment, study finds

        March 30, 2015 @ 12:05 a.m.

        Almost 1.4 million Ohioans live within a half-mile of railroad lines where some of the most-volatile crude oil in North America rolls by each week, a Columbus Dispatch analysis has found.

        Those people, about 12 percent of the state’s population, are at risk of being forced from their homes should a train hauling crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota run off the tracks.

        Most trains that transport crude oil stay on their tracks, but derailments can be catastrophic.

        A Bakken train that derailed in 2013 burst into flames, killing 47 people and destroying most of downtown Lac- Megantic, Quebec. Trains have wrecked in Ontario, as well as in Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, sending trains up in flames, prompting mass evacuations and, in some cases, obliterating homes.

        A Bakken train derailed in West Virginia last month, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and spilling oil into the Kanawha River.

        Teresa Mills, program director of the Buckeye Forest Council, said that both rail officials and the oil and gas industry should do more to keep people safe.

        “Before they leave the fields, before they pump that oil into a train, they should be required to make that oil less explosive,” Mills said. “And if they can’t transport it without its being so explosive — if the Bakken is so volatile that it can’t be transported without being explosive — then they should leave it in the ground.”

        The Bakken shale field stretches over northwestern North Dakota and into Montana and produces some of the most-desirable crude oil in the United States. It’s often less expensive than imported crude. It also requires less refining than other shale oils to be turned into diesel fuel or gasoline.

        But the same things that make Bakken crude such a good fuel source also make it highly flammable.

        Ohio, with its more than 5,300 miles of tracks, is a key junction between the Bakken region and East Coast oil refineries.

        Millions of gallons of Bakken crude come through Ohio each week on trains, according to the reports that railroad companies submit to the state. Those reports show that from 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken are moving on Ohio’s railroad tracks every week.

        That volume, combined with high-profile derailments, has prompted federal regulators, lawmakers, industrial lobbying groups and environmental nonprofit organizations to pay closer attention to how oil moves on rail lines throughout the country.

        “If it could happen in these other places. It could surely happen right here in Ohio,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group. “It could happen in a rural area, but it could also happen in a highly populated metropolitan area like Columbus.”

        The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that trains carrying crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year for the next 20 years. Property damage could top $4 billion, the DOT analysis, completed last summer, found.

        The department is preparing new rules on how crude oil is transported on tracks throughout the country. Last year, railroad companies voluntarily agreed to limit oil-train speeds to 40 mph in cities.

        Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, a trade group that represents railroad companies, said that organization has lobbied for tougher restrictions on the tanker cars that carry crude oil.

        “We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard,” Greenberg said.

        But keeping people along crude-oil shipping lines safe will take a comprehensive approach, said Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank-car owners and manufacturers.

        “The tank car is not the silver bullet. You cannot really design a tank car to withstand the derailment forces in a derailment, and so you can’t get the risk down to zero,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to look at the other factors, and that includes derailment prevention and ensuring [that] the materials have the proper packaging, and also educating the emergency-response personnel in the cities and villages along the right of way.”

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