Tag Archives: Jo Daviess County IL

As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

Repost from Reuters

As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

By Edward McAllister, Mar 23, 2015 4:45pm EDT
Firefighters' jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Firefighters’ jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

(Reuters) – Volunteers at the Galena, Illinois, fire department were hosing down the smoldering wreck of a derailed BNSF oil train on the east bank of the Mississippi River on March 5 when a fire suddenly flared beyond their control. Minutes later, the blaze reached above the treetops, visible for miles around.

“They dropped the hoses and got out” when the flames started rising, said Charles Pedersen, emergency manager for Jo Daviess County, a rural area near the Iowa border which includes Galena. “Ten more minutes and we would have lost them all.”

No one was hurt in the fire, which burned for days, fed by oil leaking from the ruptured tank cars. But an increase in explosive accidents in North America this year highlights the risks that thousands of rural fire departments face as shipments of oil by rail grow and regulators call for improved train car standards.

Nearly two years after a crude oil train derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, there are no uniform U.S. standards for oil train safety procedures, and training varies widely across the country, according to interviews with firefighters and experts in oil train derailments and training.

About 2,500 fire departments are adjacent to rail lines transporting oil in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa alone, according to figures provided by the Department of Transportation, but no nationwide statistics exist. The DOT does not know which of these fire departments are in need of training, a spokesman said.

The scenario concerns experts who say more needs to be done for sparsely equipped, rural, mostly volunteer-run fire departments to prepare as oil train accidents increase. Already this year, four oil trains have derailed and exploded in North America, double last year’s tally.

No deaths have occurred as a result of U.S. derailments. Oil trains have been a consistent feature on U.S. rails only since 2009.

“Is it acceptable that we just let these fires burn out?” said Thomas Miller, board member of the National Volunteer Fire Council and principal at the National Fire Protection Association, which draws up training guidelines.

“We have to have a comprehensive plan to identify training levels required and to make sure training is available,” he said.

CART BEFORE HORSE

Railroads have increased safety training in the nearly two years since Lac-Megantic, a period during which nine trains have derailed and exploded in North America.

Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern Corp and other railroads have bolstered their own network of hundreds of hazardous-materials experts and equipment centers dotted around the country that react if an accident occurs.

The major North American railroads last year spent $5 million to send more than 1,500 first responders on a new three-day oil train program in Pueblo, Colorado, the first site dedicated to oil derailment training in the United States.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is developing an oil derailment training module, expected to be completed in May.

But PHMSA funding to state and tribal governments for hazmat training has declined from $21.1 million in 2010 to $20.2 million last year, even as oil derailments increased. Moreover, interviews with fire departments across the country reveal stark disparities in training.

In Galena, where up to 50 oil trains roll through each week, the fire department had received some basic hazmat training provided by BNSF last year. But when the train came off the rails in March, Galena firefighters were still waiting for a slot at the Pueblo, Colorado facility.

“It was a bit cart-before-the-horse,” said Galena volunteer fire chief Randy Beadle. “It just happened that we had an incident before we could get the guys out there” to Pueblo, he said.

It is unclear what exactly the Galena firefighters might have done differently given proper training and greater resources, but other firefighters who have received extensive training say it is vital to countering an oil train blaze safely.

In Casselton, North Dakota, the fire department has been “bombarded” with training after an oil train collided with a derailed soybean train in December 2013, setting 21 oil cars ablaze and causing a fireball whose heat was felt from over a quarter of a mile away, said Casselton’s volunteer fire chief, Tim McLean.

Before that accident, McLean and his 28-strong fire team “had no idea oil trains were that explosive,” said McLean, a corn and soy farmer. Since then, eight firefighters from the department have been to the Pueblo site for intensive training and more will attend this year.

In Pembroke, Virginia, where CSX rerouted some crude oil trains last month after a derailment damaged its track in West Virginia, the volunteer department has had no specific oil training, said fire department president Jerry Gautier.

“We have reached thousands of people for hydrogen and ethanol training, but the oil program is in its infancy,” said Rick Edinger, a member of the hazardous material committee at the International Fire Chiefs Association. “It could take a couple of years to roll out.”

Meanwhile, oil train accidents remain at the front of people’s minds in Galena, especially for Pedersen, the emergency manager in Jo Daviess county, one of the busiest areas in Illinois for oil trains.

“Every time I hear a train go by now, I think a little differently about it,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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    Oil train tank cars derail in Illinois; involved “safer” models

    Repost from the Delaware County Daily Times, Primos PA
    [Editor: A variation on this AP story appeared in our local Vallejo Times Herald on 3/7/15, with this significant quote regarding the need for existing and proposed new tank car safety standards: “‘…those standards failed to prevent leakage and explosions that threaten human safety and environmental contamination,’ said Steve Barg, director of the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation, which owns a nature preserve several hundred yards from the derailment site.”  – RS]

    Oil train tank cars derail in Illinois; involved safer models

    Staff, 3/6/15 1:10PM EST
    Smoke and flames erupt from the scene of a train derailment Thursday, March 5, 2015, near Galena, Ill. A BNSF Railway freight train loaded with crude oil derailed around 1:20 p.m. in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, said Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Moser. (AP Photo/Telegraph Herald, Mike Burley)

    GALENA, Ill. (AP) — The rail cars that split open and burst into flames during a western Illinois oil train derailment this week were retrofitted with protective shields to meet a higher safety standard than federal law requires, railroad officials said.

    The fire continued to burn Friday, a day after 21 of the train’s 105 cars derailed in a rural area south of the city of Galena. No injuries were reported, but the accident was the latest in a series of failures for the safer tank-car model that has led some people calling for even tougher requirements.

    BNSF Railway said in a news release that the train’s tank cars were a newer model known as the 1232, which was designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago in hopes of keeping cars from rupturing during derailments. But 1232 standard cars involved in three other accidents have split open in the past year.

    Those other accidents included one last month in West Virginia in which a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude derailed, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a waterway and burning down a house. The home’s owner was treated for smoke inhalation, but no one else was injured.

    Thursday’s accident in Illinois led local officials to announce a voluntary evacuation of an area within 1 mile because of the presence of a propane tank near the derailment. Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said Thursday.

    A railway spokesman initially said six cars derailed. But in an update Friday, BNSF said it found 21 cars had derailed in an area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi. The company said a resulting fire is believed to have spread to five rail cars, and emergency personnel were trying to contain the blaze.

    The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The cause of the derailment hasn’t been determined.

    The accident occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant.

    As of June of last year, BNSF was hauling 32 Bakken oil trains per week through the surrounding Jo Daviess County, according to information disclosed to Illinois emergency officials.

    Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They had to pull back initially for safety reasons, but by midday Friday officials described the area as “stable.”

    The Federal Railroad Administration said its investigators expected to have access to the site around noon, and it has not yet been able to determine if any crude oil spilled into nearby waterways.

    BNSF said it was taking steps to prevent contamination.

    Recent derailments have increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

    Since 2008, oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada have caused 70,000-gallon tank cars to break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires.

    The wrecks have intensified pressure on the administration of President Barack Obama to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars, despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

    Oil industry officials had been opposed to further upgrading the 1232 cars because of costs. But late last year they changed their position and joined with the railway industry to support some upgrades, although they asked for time to make the improvements.

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      Overnight Video: Illinois Oil Train Derailment

      Repost from CQ Roll Call

      Video: Illinois Oil Train Derailment

      By Roll Call Staff, March 6, 2015 12:13 p.m.

       

      A BNSF unit train carrying oil derailed Thursday in Illinois.

      One family evacuated, the Associated Press reported.

      The derailment occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant. The Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the train was transporting oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region.

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        Live TV news coverage: Galena derailment – video of fire and explosions

        Repost from KWQC TV6, Davenport IA
        [Editor: Good interview at Incident Command location with Galena City Administrator Mark Moran showing smoke plumes in the background.  Also separate video of explosions and a segment with ariel video showing crude oil and trees on fire.  – RS]

        Train derails south of Galena, Ill.

        By Jeff Whitten, March 5, 2015, 2:37 pm Updated: March 5, 2015, 6:16 pm

         GALENA, Ill. – (KWQC) – The Jo Daviess County Sheriff says a train has derailed south of Galena where the Galena River meets the Mississippi River.

        We have confirmed that the train was carrying oil. Our news team is near the scene and can see smoke coming from the fire. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tells TV-6 that fire crews were pulled away from the fire because of the danger.

        You can also see a large plume of smoke from the live slope cameras located at Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort. Two members of the Coast Guard are also on their way to the scene. Iowa American Water company, which uses the Mississippi River as a source for drinking water, has not been notified of the incident.

        BNSF released this statement on the derailment:

        A BNSF Railway train derailed at approximately 1:20 pm CST in a rural area south of Galena, IL. There are no injuries reported. The train consists of 105 loaded cars, which includes 103 cars loaded with crude oil and 2 buffer cars loaded with sand. BNSF responders are en route. No further information is available at this time.

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