Tag Archives: Federal Railroad Administration

Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say

Repost from The Tri-City Herald

Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 14, 2015

A chorus of lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday with the delays in approving and implementing various regulations related to the movement of hazardous materials by rail and pipeline.

The acting chiefs of two U.S. Department of Transportation agencies heard Republicans and Democrats in the House Transportation Committee complain that rules on railroad tank cars and oil and gas pipelines had been on the table for as long as four years.

“It’s just unacceptable,” said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Sarah Feinberg of the Federal Railroad Administration and Tim Butters of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration noted that they have little choice but to work within a multi-step process that involves public comment, industry participation and multiple layers of review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“It’s not built for speed,” Feinberg testified. “I wish that it was.”

Butters said that his agency had received 30,000 comments on its proposed rule to improve the safety of oil trains. He said the agency needed to evaluate them as part of its process.

“We have to go through all of those,” he said. “And that takes time.”

But a series of train derailments and pipeline failures in recent years has caught the attention of members of Congress, who are hearing concerns from their constituents.

“That’s just an excuse,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., the panel’s chairman. “Four years is too long.”

Last week, Feinberg visited Denham’s district in Central California to discuss pending rules on the construction of tank cars used to carry flammable liquids, the way the trains are operated and the way the tracks are inspected and maintained.

She also visited the Sacramento-area district of Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat who last month introduced legislation to regulate the volatility of crude oil loaded into tank cars. Texas and North Dakota, the nation’s leading oil producers, currently set such limits.

Garamendi proposed that the committee write the new rules into the larger surface transportation bill Congress needs to pass this year.

“We could write laws that protect the public,” he said. “Why don’t we do that?”

Acts of Congress don’t always make things go faster. In 2008, lawmakers mandated that railroads install a GPS-based collision-avoidance system called Positive Train Control by the end of 2015. But the nation’s freight and passenger railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline.

Once the new oil train rules become final, it could take years to retrofit or replace tens of thousands of tank cars used to transport the country’s supply of crude oil and ethanol.

As a sign of how slowly the process moves, Capuano noted that BNSF, the nation’s biggest hauler of crude oil in trains, has gotten ahead of regulators by voluntarily lowering train speeds, increasing track inspections and encouraging shippers to use better tank cars.

“Whose butt do we have to kick?” he asked. “Whose budget do we have to cut? Whose budget do we have to enhance to make this work?”

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November train derailment in Feather River Canyon caused by broken rail

Repost from The Chico Enterprise-Record

November train derailment in Feather River Canyon caused by broken rail

By Ashley Gebb, 04/13/15, 5:11 PM PDT

Twelve rail cars full of corn derailed Nov. 25 in the Feather River Canyon. The accident was caused by a broken rail. Courtesy of Jake Miille

No railroad cars reached the Feather River after the Nov. 25 derailment, but corn did. Courtesy of Jake Miille

Belden >> A November train derailment in the Feather River Canyon was caused by a broken rail, the Enterprise-Record has learned.

As Union Pacific Railroad prepares to replace more than 36 miles of track between Keddie and Lake Oroville, spokesman Francisco Castillo has confirmed a detail fracture caused by cracks led to the derailment of 12 train cars that tumbled into the canyon Nov. 25. The repairs are unrelated and were planned before the accident, Castillo said, part of a greater effort to improve rail safety as transport of crude oil continues to rise.

“Though serious accidents are rare, we recognize that there are still risks associated with rail transportation, just as there are risks with any other mode of transportation. That’s why we follow strict safety practices and work tirelessly to achieve our goal of zero derailments,” he said in an email.

In the early morning of Nov. 25, a westbound train derailed near Virgilia, upstream of Belden, causing 12 loaded hoppers to slide down an embankment toward the North Fork Feather River below, stopping just before the water. No one was injured but the carloads of corn were spread across the hillside and into the river, causing $640,049 in equipment damage and $85,786 in damage to the track.

At the time, emergency officials said the incident underscored the risks associated with train transport in the canyon.

“It’s a concern for us because it shows there is still a history of derailments in the county, especially in the canyon,” Butte County Emergency Services Officer John Gulserian said Monday of the November derailment.

Though the incident occurred in Plumas County, the same railroad lines continue into Butte County, along with whatever the trains are hauling — be it corn or crude oil. The derailment of any such materials can have devastating implications for the water, the environment and wildlife, as well as create a fire danger, Gulserian said.

Because of the remote area and the nature of the spills, the county is not always equipped to deal with the accident and has to wait for other resources, he said.

The canyon area as a whole tends to see a derailment every three to five years, with most similar to the November incident, where only a few cars go off the tracks, he said. The last derailment Gulserian could remember spilled a load of neutralized alcohol near Storrie.

Track failures are linked to 31 percent of all train accidents, and even though such incidents are becoming less common, prevention remains critical, said Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Mike Booth. It’s especially important with a 400 percent increase in more volatile Bakken crude oil being shipped out of the North Dakota region.

“It travels to nearly every state and it travels long distances,” he said. “To prevent accidents due to increased traffic going longer distances, we have increased inspection on crude oil routes. … Since the Lac-Mégantic accident two years ago in Canada, it was a bit of a wake-up call for everyone.”

The 2013 incident occurred when a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed, resulting in a fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-seven people were killed, and dozens of buildings were destroyed or critically contaminated.

Railroads are required by law to inspect and maintain their equipment in good repair, and the Federal Railroad Administration ensures that by auditing records and doing spot inspections, Booth said. It also works with the Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, which has taken more than two dozen actions to increase the safety of crude oil transport.

“And we are looking for more ways to make it even safer,” Booth said. “We don’t want to have a single derailment …”

In the past 10 years, Castillo said derailments have decreased 38 percent, largely in part to a derailment and risk reduction process, which includes using lasers and ultrasound to identify rail imperfections, tracking acoustic vibration on wheels to anticipate failures before they happen, and performing real-time analysis of every rail car via trackside sensors. Employees also participate in rigorous, regular safety training programs that include the identification and prevention of derailments, and Union Pacific trains first responders on ways to minimize the impact of derailment in their communities.

Track maintenance projects are part of Union Pacific’s annual maintenance work and scheduled three to five years in advance, Castillo said. From 2005-14, the railroad invested more than $31 billion in its network and operations to support the transportation infrastructure, and it is in the middle of $26.1 million in improvements in the Feather River Canyon area.

The first project is complete and included replacement of 15.2 miles of rail just east of Oroville. The second project, scheduled to begin next month and be complete in August, will replace 36.3 miles of rail at various locations between Keddie and Lake Oroville.

“The Feather River Canyon upgrades will enhance the safe transport of commodities we transport through the canyon,” Castillo said.

Union Pacific and other entities have been working with Butte County recently to improve safety, Gulserian said. That effort included an exercise March 11 with a simulated train derailment near Chico that provided the opportunity to practice alert notifications, areas of authority, staging materials and alerting the public. Another simulation has been scheduled.

Gulserian said it’s encouraging to hear news of rail replacement, as safety and security of hazardous materials is as much a priority for the county as it is for the railroad.

 

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Rep. Garamendi and area leaders call for safer crude-by-rail transport

Repost from The Benicia Herald
[Editor:  Significant quote: "Garamendi has introduced House Bill 1679 that would prohibit the transport of North Dakota Bakken crude by train unless it has a maximum Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of 9.5 psi."  - RS]

Rep. Garamendi to call for safer crude-by-rail transport

By Donna Beth Weilenman, April 7, 2015

U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, will join industry leaders in Davis on Wednesday in calling for the U.S. Department of Transportation to make rail delivery of crude oil safer.

“Crude oil is or has until very recently been transported by rail through several cities in Congressman Garamendi’s 3rd Congressional District, including Davis, Dixon, Fairfield, Suisun City and Marysville,” said his media specialists, Donald Lathbury and Matthew Kravitz, in a joint statement on the news conference.

“These routes are very close to residential communities, schools, parks, and businesses.”

Among those joining Garamendi will be Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, and Paul W. King, deputy director of the Office of Rail Safety at the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Municipal and other leaders also are expected to attend, including Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, Marysville Mayor Ricky Samayoa, Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor and Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson.

Also expected to attend are Terry Bassett, Yolo County Transportation District executive director; Dana Carey, Yolo County office of Emergency Services manager; and Terry Schmidtbauer, assistant director of Resource Management in the Solano County Office of Emergency Services.

Garamendi has introduced House Bill 1679 that would prohibit the transport of North Dakota Bakken crude by train unless it has a maximum Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of 9.5 psi.

He said this is the maximum volatility permitted by the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for crude oil futures contracts.

By comparison, he said, a recent literature review by Sandia Labs indicates that the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s study of 152 Bakken crude samples found an average RVP of 11.7 psi and a max of 14.4 psi. A rule going into effect in North Dakota this month sets the limit at 13.7 psi.

Garamendi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, sent a letter March 3 to the Department of Transportation in which they suggested strengthening safety improvements and asked DOT to drop any plans for weakening regulations.

Instead, they called for stronger safety standards for crude-by-rail transportation.

“Families living near oil-by-rail shipping lines are rightfully concerned about the safety of the trains that pass through their communities,” Garamendi said. “For that reason, I have repeatedly called on the Department of Transportation to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure that these shipments are as safe and secure as possible.

“Every day that strong and effective rules are delayed is another day that millions of Americans, including many in my district, are put at greater risk.”

Garamendi’s announcement will be made at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday next to the Davis Train Depot, near the corner of Second and H streets, Davis.

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