Tag Archives: Hazmat notification

New Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Repost from Center for Biological Diversity

CenterForBiolDiv_logoNew Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Long Phase-out of Hazardous Cars, Inadequate Speed Limits Leave Communities at Risk of Explosive Derailments

For Immediate Release, December 7, 2015
Contact: Jared Margolis, (802) 310-4054

WASHINGTON— A new transportation bill signed by President Obama includes provisions intended to improve the safety of oil trains, but leaves puncture-prone tank cars in service for years and fails to address the speed, length and weight of trains that experts point to as the leading causes of explosive derailments. The bill upgrades safety features on oil train tank cars and requires railroads to provide emergency responders with real-time information about when and where dangerous oil cargoes are being transported but doesn’t do enough to prevent oil train accidents, which have risen sharply in recent years.

“While these regulations improve our ability to prepare for oil train disasters they do virtually nothing to prevent them from ever occurring in the first place,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Until we dramatically reduce the speed and length of these bomb trains it’s only a matter of time before the next explosive derailment sends fireballs rolling through one of our communities.”

The new regulations will require all oil train tank cars to include fire-resistant ceramic coatings and protections for protruding top fittings. The final rule issued by federal regulators in May only required oil trains with 35 loaded oil tank cars or 20-car blocks of oil tank cars to implement the new standards, and would not have required the ceramic blankets or top fitting protections for all retrofitted cars.

But experts say even the protective measures included in the new transportation regulations signed into law on Friday will do little to prevent a spill if a train derails at speeds faster than 18 mph, and oil trains are permitted to travel at 40 mph to 50 mph. And the new regulations do not require the phase-out of dangerous puncture-prone tank cars to begin until 2018, and allows them to remain in service until 2029.

“It’s irresponsible to continue to allow these bomb trains to roll through the middle of our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes,” said Margolis. “We need to quit pretending we can make these dangerous trains safe and simply ban them altogether.”

Congress has directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue requiring notifications to states of train routes and frequencies so communities can better prepare to respond to train derailments, explosions and oil spills. However, the new regulations do nothing to remedy the track infrastructure problems, or the excessive length and weight of oil trains, cited as leading causes of derailments. Further, it remains unclear whether the public will have access to information about these hazards.

“Keeping information on oil trains from public scrutiny is outrageous, and only serves to protect the corporate interests that care little about the risk to the homes, schools and wild areas that these trains threaten,” said Margolis. “We need to keep these trains off the tracks and keep these dangerous fossil fuels in the ground, rather than keeping the public in the dark.”

Background 

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that current tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. But federal regulators have ignored the safety board’s official recommendation to stop shipping crude oil in the hazardous tank cars. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that even the newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, often puncturing at low speeds.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, has led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail since 2005, primarily in trains with as many as 120 oil cars that are more than 1.5 miles long. The result has been oil spills, destructive fires, and explosions when oil trains have derailed. More oil spilled in train accidents just in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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Train safety provisions included in U.S. transportation bill

Repost from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Train safety provisions included in U.S. transportation bill

By Crocker Stephenson, Dec. 2, 2015
 Bakken oil trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee at 133 W. Oregon St., Milwaukee. A federal bill includes provisions requiring railroads to share safety information regarding trains and bridges with local officials.
Bakken oil trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee at 133 W. Oregon St., Milwaukee. A federal bill includes provisions requiring railroads to share safety information regarding trains and bridges with local officials. Image credit: Journal Sentinel files

The mammoth five-year federal transportation bill that lawmakers hope to send to President Barack Obama early next week includes provisions, championed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), that would require railroads to share critical safety information with local communities.

“This legislation provides the transparency we’ve been begging and asking Canadian Pacific railroad for,” Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy said during a news conference Wednesday outside a fire station at 100 W. Virginia St.

“It isn’t too much to ask a company that is using our public right of way to let us know if their bridges are safe and secure,” he said.

As if to illustrate Murphy’s point, a Canadian Pacific train pulling oil tankers rumbled across the bridge over S. 1st St. a few blocks to the north.

Milwaukee is in a rail corridor that ferries crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in metropolitan Chicago and beyond.

Since spring, Murphy and other city officials have been sparring with Canadian Pacific over its refusal to share with city engineers the results of its inspection of a rusty-looking bridge crossing W. Oregon St. at S. 1st St.

Canadian Pacific officials have insisted the bridge is safe, but they announced in August that the railroad plans to encase 13 of the bridge’s steel columns in concrete to protect them from further corrosion.

“Five to six months ago, the Milwaukee Common Council asked for information on bridges,” Ald. Terry Witkowski said. “We were greeted with silence.”

“With the stroke of a pen, the ball game has changed,” he said.

Concern over trains hauling potentially explosive fuel tankers through the heart of Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward increased last month when two petroleum-filled trains derailed in Wisconsin in a single week.

“Wisconsin first-responders should be applauded for their reaction to these derailments,” Baldwin said. “But railroad companies need to do more.”

According to Baldwin’s office, the bipartisan transportation bill contains several provisions pushed by the senator:

    • Transparency: A provision would require railroads to provide local officials with a public version of the most recent bridge inspection report
    • Real-time reporting: Currently, information about hazardous materials being carried through communities is available to first-responders only after an incident has occurred. A provision would require that information to be shared before a train carrying hazardous materials arrives in their jurisdiction.

“The thing we need is information,” Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing said. “So the more transparent our haulers become, the more prepared we can be.”

“Having the city have this information gives the Department of Public Works, our city engineer, access to information so that we can make an evaluation, so we can work with railroads to make sure we have safe rail crossings,” Mayor Tom Barrett said.

The roughly $300 billion transportation bill would also require the Department of Transportation to initiate a study on the appropriate level of insurance railroads hauling hazardous insurance should have, and it would ask the DOT to require that railroads improve their plans for responding to catastrophic oil discharges.

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Does keeping hazardous rail cargo secret make Maine safer?

Repost from the Bangor Daily News

Does keeping hazardous rail cargo secret make Maine safer?

By Darren Fishell, Oct. 28, 2015, at 9:17 a.m.
A new state law that took effect Oct. 15, 2015, exempts information about freight rail cargo from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. While shipping crude oil by rail, as illustrated in the 2013 photo in Hermon, has largely ceased, a spokesman for the environmental group 350 Maine questions whether the new exemption is meant more to quell protests than to protect business interests or promote better communication between railways and first responders.
A new state law that took effect Oct. 15, 2015, exempts information about freight rail cargo from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. While shipping crude oil by rail, as illustrated in the 2013 photo in Hermon, has largely ceased, a spokesman for the environmental group 350 Maine questions whether the new exemption is meant more to quell protests than to protect business interests or promote better communication between railways and first responders. Brian Feulner | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Information revealing when, where and how much hazardous material is shipped by rail through Maine became sealed from public view under state law earlier this month, in a move first responders hope will allow them greater access to information about dangerous materials passing through the state.

The new exemption to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act — the only new exemption to become law during the last legislative session — in June cleared a veto from Gov. Paul LePage, who wrote he believed any information in the hands of first responders should be public.

The railroad industry, however, has pushed for shielding for those shipments from public records, citing safety reasons and business confidentiality.

“Maine didn’t have the exclusion, and [railroads] just didn’t share the information,” Mike Shaw, an Amtrak employee and former lawmaker from Standish, said. “I figured that if it can be in the hands of [first responders] and I don’t know about it, it’s better than nobody knowing it at all.”

Shaw, the bill’s sponsor, resigned from the Legislature in August after moving to Freeport.

Safety and security

Jeffrey Cammack, executive director and legislative liaison for the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association, said the issue of how to get that information from railroad companies is on the group’s upcoming agenda.

“What we’ve heard from the chiefs is that sometimes [a hazardous material shipment] is stored on the rails in their community and they don’t know it’s there,” Cammack said. “They hope to have some dialogue with the railroad companies just about how long it’s there and why it might be there.”

Cammack said first responders would be better able to prepare for a disaster, spill or derailment with that knowledge.

“The person in control of the product and the emergency responders will have a response plan,” Cammack said. “That’s what we look to gain.”

The highest concern, he said, has been about hazardous materials stored in a town at times for multiple days without emergency responders being alerted.

Shaw said he believed the American Association of Railroads helped with the language of the bill, which initially shielded such records when in the hands of first responders. In testimony, Shaw advocated for broadening that exemption to all state or local agencies.

Ed Greenberg, with the American Association of Railroads, could not confirm the association’s direct involvement in the bill language, but said the industry has general concerns about the security of shipments and proprietary business information.

“Whenever there is sensitive information in whatever level is made public, we believe it elevates security risks by making it easier for someone intent on causing harm,” Greenberg said.

Cammack said that’s not the biggest concern of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association.

“We know that for 99.9 percent of the people, that isn’t an issue,” Cammack said.

Nate Moulton, director of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Office of Freight and Business Services, said competition between railroads and other shippers also is a legitimate business concern.

“No. 1, do you want them or your trucking competitors to know how much you’re moving?” Moulton said. “If you’re a trucking company, you don’t post publicly what you’re moving and how much.”

The new exemption in Maine covers all types of hazardous materials that might be shipped by rail, which could include information about other shipments, including some chemicals delivered to paper mills.

The St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, which runs from Portland to Quebec, was the only company that reported lobbying on the bill, in February. The railroad transports chemicals, forest products, brick and cement, food and agricultural feed products, and steel and scrap, according to its website.

Crude oil concerns

The fight over that kind of shipment information ramped up in the wake of the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, explosion that killed 47 people in July 2013. Federal rules required new disclosures for regular, large shipments of crude oil from the Bakken Formation, beneath North Dakota, Montana and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Read Brugger, an activist with 350 Maine who protested the transport of crude oil through the state, said shippers generally have sought greater secrecy about their cargo.

“Keeping secret what travels through our communities continues to be high priority for the shipping industry — be it by rail, truck or boat,” Brugger wrote in an email. “They rightly fear that releasing that information to an informed public would unleash a backlash that they could not control.”

Federal rules since May 2014 have required notification to state emergency responders about trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of that type of oil, a requirement that prompted railroad companies to seek nondisclosure agreements with several states over the information.

But any shipments, and especially any of that scale, are unlikely to roll through Maine any time soon. Only two trains carrying shipments of crude oil have come through Maine since the Lac-Megantic accident. Brugger noted the only shipments through Maine in recent years have been less than that amount.

Chop Hardenbergh, publisher and author of the trade newsletter Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports, wrote in an email that such shipments by rail aren’t likely to pick up until oil prices do.

In addition, Irving’s New Brunswick refinery is not receiving any crude oil by rail and by 2020 could have access to TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline, Hardenbergh wrote.

More rail freight

With a $37 million freight rail improvement project moving ahead after gaining federal funding earlier this week, Moulton said that likely will mean more freight traffic after its expected completion date of summer 2017. That stands to benefit the forest products industry and a booming market for propane shipped by rail, but as common carries, rail shippers are subject to regional demands.

“They don’t get to pick and choose what they move,” Moulton said. “Any legal product they have to quote a rate and then they have to move it.”

About the new disclosure law, Moulton said there are competing priorities.

“It’s a balance, and hopefully we’re finding that balance so that we don’t upend the needs of the railroads and the shippers and we get the right information to the right people that may have to respond to an incident,” Moulton said.

Cammack said the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association will meet Nov. 18 to address the issue of getting that information from railroad operators in the state.

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