Tag Archives: High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs)

Minnesota Governor Pens Scathing Letter To BNSF President Over Oil Trains In Twin Cities

Repost from CBS Minnesota
[Editor:  Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton learned about new routing of oil trains in a major metropolitan area AFTER THE FACT.  That is how the railroads notify the public of major changes in crude by rail transport.  It is important to have a sitting Governor join the chorus of voices on this highly significant issue of rail routing and notification.  See the TV news video below, and read Gov. Dayton’s full letter  here.  – RS]

Dayton Pens Scathing Letter To BNSF President Over Oil Trains In Twin Cities

By Jennifer Mayerle, October 21, 2015 10:34 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton says he’s deeply concerned about an increase in the number of oil trains traveling through heavily populated areas of the Twin Cities.

In a letter to the President of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Dayton estimates an additional 99,000 people are living within an evacuation zone. The areas include spots where thousands gather at a time, like Target Field and the University of Minnesota.

Kathy Harrell-Latham lives in downtown Minneapolis with her family.

“We chose this neighborhood because it’s accessible and the risks were relatively limited,” Harrell-Latham said.

She was concerned to learn 11 to 23 crude oil trains per week are being transported on the Willmar-Minneapolis-St. Paul rail line. And it goes by Target Field, Target Center, the U of M and downtown Minneapolis.

“There are people that live here and work here all day and we need the safety measures to go above and beyond,” Harrell-Latham said.

Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a scathing letter to the President of BNSF Railway citing safety concerns and outrage over not being informed of the “significant change in operation, which puts an additional 99,000 Minnesotans at risk.”

That brings the total number in the state to roughly 425,000.

“The Governor is absolutely right there should not be these dangerous oil and ethanol trains being routed through population areas,” DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein said.

Hornstein championed last year’s crude oil transport response bill. He applauds the Governor’s request for the railway to: issue a public statement about the temporary route, to not operate under Target Field during events and to extend first responder training to affected communities, among others.

It’s in an effort to prevent accidents like this BNSF train that derailed in Montana in July, and a 2013 accident in Quebec that killed 47.

“We need to have a much stronger safety protocol for these trains as they come through but the railroads are not cooperating and now we have more evidence of that,” Hornstein said.

In response, BNSF issued this statement:

“BNSF has multiple routes in the metro area that we utilize for hauling a variety of commodities. We comply with the law and report to the state crude volumes of a certain size and their routes and when they change by 25 percent. That occurred in this case where we have a major expansion project occurring and are rerouting some traffic to accommodate that construction work. Crude oil was already being shipped on the route in question. Volumes and routes can fluctuate for a number of reasons. In all areas of the metro region where we move crude oil and other hazmat, we take a number of steps to reduce risk. We’ll be talking directly with the Governor on his concerns and our ongoing efforts to safely move all commodities by rail.”

 Gov. Dayton has asked BNSF to provide a progress report by the end of the month, and urges them to inform him and the public about changes.

Read Gov. Dayton’s full letter here.

 

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    LETTER: Is “Crude by Rail” Good for Benicia?

    Is “Crude by Rail” Good for Benicia?

    By Craig Snider, September 23, 2015
    [A version of this letter appeared in the Vallejo Times-Herald on 10/5/15.]

    I’d like to share a few thoughts about Valero’s “Crude by Rail” project.

    To recap, the proposal consists of constructing a depot at the Valero refinery to offload crude oil. The crude would come from fracking of shale in South Dakota or from the mining of tar sands in Canada. The shale oil is especially flammable and prone to explosion if derailed. The tar sand oil is extremely toxic. According US Department of transportation regulations, such trains are referred to as “High Hazard Flammable Trains” or HHFT’s. Two trains (100 tank cars total) per day would pass through a portion of the Benicia Industrial Park en route to the new depot. A decision is needed by the City of Benicia whether to allow construction of the depot at the proposed refinery site, or require that the depot be built outside the city and piped into the refinery, or deny the project altogether.

    According to the City Manager, the industrial park is the “engine of Benicia” and the best way to generate additional revenue is to “diversify.”   In fact, according to Benicia Strategic Plan, Issue #3 – “Strengthening Economic and Fiscal Conditions,” strategies include “Strengthen Industrial Park Competitiveness” and “Retain and Attract Business.” Yet businesses are already leaving the industrial park for sites that better meet their needs.   I ask: If you wanted to locate your business in an Industrial Park, are you more likely to choose one clogged with 100 tank cars of High Hazard Flammable crude each day, or one without it? Would your customers be comfortable in the presence of such a hazard or would they take their business elsewhere?   Remember, this is the same type of crude that caught fire in 2013, exploded (leaving a .62 mile radius blast zone), and killed 47 people and destroyed the entire downtown of Lac Megantic, Quebec. Most areas of the industrial park and the NE corner of Waters End subdivision would be at risk from a similar blast zone. Would you be more, or less likely to buy a home in a community with the daily presence of HHFTs?

    Valero claims that despite chronic violations of air quality, they place a high value on safety. But remember, Valero’s responsibility and control of the HHFT’s begins and ends at the refinery gate. Valero has repeatedly attempted to distance itself from any responsibility for rail shipments of crude. They have cited state and federal law in an effort to wash their hands of any responsibility for accidents that occur beyond their gates. (See Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) appendix H). Yet, the freight railroad business remains virtually unregulated and their safety practices are largely secret. In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration doesn’t know how many rail bridges there are because there is no public inventory of them. Railroads inspect and maintain their own tracks and determine what condition to keep them in, but keep that information secret. And, when state or local emergency managers get information from railroads about oil trains, the railroads ask the government agencies to promise to keep the information from the public.  Why would we want 100 tank cars of highly flammable (and explosive) crude oil rolling through our town each day with no analysis or transparency regarding the safety systems employed by the railroad?

    I understand that Valero contributes a major portion of the tax base for our community. Many of our citizens depend on income from Valero. But isn’t it time for all of us to begin weaning ourselves from our fossil fuel addiction? Many of us were sickened by the specter of ISIS militants shelling ancient temples and other World Heritage sites. Yet these acts pale in comparison to the tar sand mining destruction in Canada, which will supply some or all of Valero’s crude by rail. Tar sand mining destroys Boreal forests, leaving a wasteland of toxic chemicals and groundwater pollution that seeps into rivers and streams. Why decry the ISIS destruction, but ignore the vast destruction of natural systems associated with crude by rail? How can an activity that is so destructive to our world be considered “Good for Benicia”? How can unchecked greenhouse gas production, global warming, and the ruin of our planet for future generations be “Good for Benicia”? How can putting the future of our industrial park and our livelihoods at risk be “Good for Benicia”? And finally, what does it say about a community that is willing to profit from such destruction?

    Maybe it’s inevitable that the city will approve the project. Shame on us if we do. But if it must be done, the best solution is Alternative 3: Offsite Unloading Terminal. Alternative 3 keeps HHFTs out of Benicia, while allowing Valero to get their crude by rail.   We need to diversify the Industrial Park and make it more (not less) attractive to other businesses. We want an inviting community, not one whose safety is compromised by ill-conceived means of procuring crude oil. It’s one thing to live in the shadow of an oil refinery with it’s own inherent hazards and pollutants. Why up the ante when we don’t have to?

    If you would like to voice your concerns about Valero’s Crude by Rail project, attend the Planning Commission meeting scheduled for September 29 at 6:30 pm at the City Council Chambers or send in comments on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report before October 16th. For more information contact Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community at safebenicia.org.

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      LATEST DERAILMENT: ethanol train derailment, fire

      Repost from Fox News

      7 ethanol tankers derail in South Dakota, 1 catches fire

      September 20, 2015, Associated Press
      ethanol unit train fire
      Smoke rises from a burning ethanol tanker car, Saturday Sept. 19, 2015, after the 98-car BNSF train carrying ethanol derailed in a rural part of Bon Homme County awash in corn fields between the towns of Scotland and Lesterville, S.D. (AP)

      Seven ethanol tanker cars derailed and at least one caught fire Saturday in southeastern South Dakota, according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The company said no one was hurt.

      The 98-car train carrying ethanol derailed about 6:15 a.m. in a rural part of Bon Homme County awash in corn fields between the towns of Scotland and Lesterville, BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said. There were no injuries and no nearby structures were threatened by the fire, he said.

      Williams said three tankers were compromised and lost their contents, but crews haven’t yet determined which of those three actually caught fire. Officials aren’t yet sure what caused the derailment over a small bridge that spans a dry creek.

      “It’s too early to tell,” Williams said. “It will be under investigation.”

      The derailed tanker cars were near the front of the train, said Lee Rettig of the Bon Homme County Emergency Management Department.

      Rettig said one rural road was shut down as firefighters who responded from Scotland, Lesterville, Menno, Tyndall and Tabor worked to extinguish the blaze. It was put out about 2:30 p.m., he said.

      BNSF hazardous materials teams responded to help with the cleanup. There are no waterways near the accident scene.

      “We’ll be assessing any environmental damage,” Williams said.

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        Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no

        Repost from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

        Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no

        By Lee Bergquist, Sept. 13, 2015
        A flotilla of kayaks and boats and a small crowd onshore hold banners and beat drums Sunday to raise concerns about the transport by rail of oil through Milwaukee and across an aging railroad bridge at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers near S. 1st Place.
        A flotilla of kayaks and boats and a small crowd onshore hold banners and beat drums Sunday to raise concerns about the transport by rail of oil through Milwaukee and across an aging railroad bridge at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers near S. 1st Place. | Michael Sears

        Despite urging from a federal agency that railroads hand over more information on safety conditions of bridges, a carrier moving Bakken crude oil through Milwaukee says it doesn’t plan to provide such details.

        Trains carrying Bakken crude go through downtown Milwaukee, leaving some residents afraid of what will happen if there is a spill. This train passes by the apartment of Brian Chiu on W. Oregon St. | Brian Chiu

        Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) distributed a letter from Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in which the regulator urged railroad carriers to provide more information to municipalities on the safety status of bridges. Milwaukee officials have complained about the lack of information on the structural integrity of railroad bridges used by Canadian Pacific in the city.

        “When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response,” Feinberg wrote.

        “I urge you to engage more directly with local leaders and provide more timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound.”

        “CP’s position has not changed,” said Andy Cummings, a manager of media relations for the company.

        “It is our policy to work directly with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is our regulator, on any concerns they have with our infrastructure.”

        The exchange comes in the wake of growing concerns from communities along rail corridors used by railroads shipping a growing tide of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

        Those worries have been exacerbated by tanker accidents. The most notable is the July 2013 derailment of tankers that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The tankers had been routed through Milwaukee before the accident.

        There have been no accidents involving crude in Wisconsin, but on March 5 a BNSF Railway train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., after leaving Wisconsin. Twenty-one tankers derailed. Galena is about 10 miles south of the border.

        In Milwaukee, one bridge in question is a 300-foot-long structure, known as a steel stringer bridge, at W. Oregon St. and S. 1st St. The bridge was constructed in 1919, according to Bridgehunter.com, which keeps a database of historic bridges.

        Canadian Pacific said on Sept. 1 that it would encase 13 of the bridge’s steel columns with concrete to prevent further corrosion and to extend the life of the columns. The carrier said last week that a protective layer of concrete will be applied late this month.

        Since last spring, neighbors have expressed worries about the integrity of the bridge, and since July city officials have sought details on the condition of the bridge.

        In addition to the threat to human safety, environmental groups such as Milwaukee Riverkeeper say about three dozen bridges cross rivers and streams in the Milwaukee River basin.

        On Sunday, a flotilla of kayaks and canoes paddled at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers to underscore the connection between trains and the city’s waterways.

        Bridges must be inspected annually by railroads. But railroads are not required to submit the information to the federal agency. Railroads also are not required to make the information available to the public.

        Cummings said the bridge on S. 1st St. has been inspected by a railroad bridge inspector. “We are confident in its ability to safely handle freight and passenger train traffic,” Cummings said.

        In her letter, Feinberg said the agency is “re-evaluating” its programs to determine whether it needs to take additional steps.

        Common Council President Michael Murphy said he isn’t satisfied by Feinberg’s comments.

        “I would liked to have seen a little more teeth in it,” he said.

        Murphy said Canadian Pacific should be more transparent, adding that he expects the company to brief the council’s public safety panel soon on the bridge’s condition.

        Baldwin and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, also a Democrat, said in an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune last week that oil trains have put “hundreds of communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin at risk for the explosive crashes that come when an oil train derails.”

        Nationally, trains carrying crude oil in the United States have jumped from 10,840 carloads in 2009 to 233,698 in 2012 to 493,127 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.

        Canadian Pacific is shipping seven to 11 Bakken crude trains a week through Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, according to the latest data sent to the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management. BNSF is shipping 20 to 30 trainloads along the Mississippi River.

        In a federal transportation bill that has passed the Senate but not yet the House, Baldwin and Franken said they added language that would make oil train information available for first responders. It would also give state and local officials access to inspection records of bridges.

        Sunday’s paddle protest in Milwaukee was meant to highlight concerns by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Citizens Acting for Rail Safety that the area’s aging bridges were not built to accommodate so much oil.

        Cheryl Nenn of Riverkeeper said a rail accident that spilled crude could have long-lasting effects on the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, and Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water.

        Complicating a potential oil spill in downtown Milwaukee is wave action from Lake Michigan, known as a seiche effect, where surging water from the lake can push water upstream, she said.

        “The Milwaukee River is cleaner today than it has been in decades, and now we face a threat from crude oil,” Nenn said.

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