Tag Archives: New Jersey

Des Moines, Iowa: Action must be taken to reduce the hazards from railroad shipments of Bakken oil

Repost from The Des Moines Register

Action must be taken to reduce the hazards from railroad shipments of Bakken oil

By Carolyn Heising, November 15, 2014

Now is the time to ask: Is the growing practice of using trains to carry highly-flammable crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale field through communities in Iowa safe and even necessary?

Is it free of the hazards that led to the railroad accident in Quebec last year that killed 47 people and destroyed half of the town of Lac-Megantic? Or is it adding to the stress on the rail system?

Iowa is one of a number of states that have become a corridor for the shipment of Bakken crude over the past three years. Canadian Pacific Railway ships heavy loads of oil south through five eastern Iowa counties. BNSF Railway ships crude through four western Iowa counties. The oil is transported to refineries on the Gulf Coast or to pipeline connections.

No question about it, U.S. oil production is booming. The shale revolution is the dominant economic and geopolitical event of the past decade. Its effects have been transformative.

The United States is on the verge of becoming the world’s leading oil producer. OPEC is no longer the threat it once was. The growth in the U.S. energy industry has more than doubled in the past 10 years and is now worth about $1.2 trillion in gross product each year, contributing about 30 percent of the job growth for the nation, according to a study by the Perryman Group.

And the oil boom is likely to continue unless a catastrophic event brings it to a halt.

One reason environmental groups seem relatively calm about railroad shipment of crude oil is that they know what a minor event it is amid the chaos of fossil-fuel production and the dangerous and destabilizing chaos of climate change. A big part of the problem is the paradoxically positive economic effect of shale-oil production, which is loading the atmosphere with an enormous amount of global-warming carbon dioxide and methane.

What’s the answer?

Long-term we need to reduce the amount of oil we use in transportation by shifting to electric cars with batteries powered by renewable energy sources and nuclear power. Right now, action must be taken to reduce the hazards from railroad shipments of Bakken oil, which is much more flammable than conventional crude oil.

Freight railroads have gone from being a relic of the past to being a key mode of transport for oil supplies. Currently about two-thirds of North Dakota’s Bakken oil production is transported by rail. And more than 10 percent of the nation’s total oil production travels by rail.

In the last quarter of 2013, more than 71 million barrels of crude oil were shipped by rail, more than 10 times the volume of oil shipped in 2008. Over the past six months, there have been at least 10 large crude oil spills in the United States and Canada because of railroad accidents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has responded by proposing speed limits along with a system for classifying the oil and new safety design standards for rail tanker cars.

The railroads say there have been relatively few rail accidents and not much loss of oil, considering the huge quantities of oil being shipped around the country. However, oil companies — which own the oil rail cars — are shipping much of the crude in outdated tank cars called DOT-111s that are vulnerable to puncture in a derailment.

The trains have captured the attention of local emergency responders by the amount of oil they carry — 100-plus tanker cars carrying up to 30,000 gallons of highly flammable fuel are not uncommon. In New Jersey, a key rail route, the trains pass within a few feet of homes and schools in highly populated areas.

Those who believe that slower train speeds alone are the answer should think again. A train hauling Bakken crude derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., a bustling city of 75,000 people. Three tanker cars tumbled into the James River. One of the tanker cars ruptured, spilling 30,000 gallons of crude.

Fortunately, no one was killed or injured. But local fire officials, who are accustomed to dealing with oil accidents on a much smaller scale, said the train was traveling within the speed limit. After the Quebec disaster, major rail companies agreed to reduce the maximum speed of oil trains to 40 miles per hour when they are within 10 miles of a major city. Lynchburg set its own speed limit of 25 mph. The train was going slower than 25 mph when it derailed.

Because a lot is riding on rail safety, oil companies should consider what other industries that use trains to haul hazardous cargoes have done to prevent accidents. For example, the nuclear industry uses specially-built freight cars to transport used nuclear-fuel assemblies from one nuclear plant to another. Since the 1960s, there have been thousands of trips involving the rail transport of nuclear waste in the United States, without a single serious accident.

That’s a stellar safety record which bodes well for the rail shipment of nuclear waste to a deep-geologic repository — and nuclear power’s increased use for electricity production.

Admittedly, the number of oil trains and the amount of hazardous cargo they carry is far greater than it is for nuclear companies and most other industries. But if oil companies continue to use puncture-prone tanker cars to haul highly-flammable Bakken crude in 100-car trains traveling at dangerous speeds, the ultimate consequences could be dire, and we will wind up asking ourselves why something more wasn’t done to prevent it.

CAROLYN D. HEISING, Ph.D., is a professor of industrial, mechanical and nuclear engineering at Iowa State University. Contact: cheising@iastate.edu.


Potentially explosive trains rolling past 55 schools along a 60 mile stretch in NY and NJ

Repost from WABC TV7 Eyewitness News, New York, NY
[Editor: Trains actually pass right UNDER one school.  A shocking video and excellent investigative reporting.  Someone really should research and list the schools (and other vital structures) along the Union Pacific tracks proposed as the route for Valero Benicia crude-by-rail.
UPDATE, Nov. 1, 2014 – Note previous NRDC study on this issue in California, especially p. 3 of It Could Happen Here, The Exploding Threat of Crude by Rail in California, which lists the number of schools.  More detailed mapping is available on the NRDC’s Risk Zone Maps.  – RS] 

The Investigators: Potentially explosive trains rolling through New York, New Jersey neighborhoods

By Jim Hoffer, October 31, 2014

Bridge wake-up call

Repost from Philipstown.info, Philipstown, NY
[Editor: This story out of New York is a wake-up call for us all.  Bridge safety in Northern California is a serious issue, and  we have heard little discussion on the subject as Valero  proposes to bring oil trains over the Sierra, through the Sacramento River Valley and  across the protected Yolo  Basin and Suisun Marsh.  Another refinery proposes to send these trains over the 85-year old Benicia Bridge, then alongside our beautiful Carquinez Strait and down through the heavily populated communities on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay.  – RS]

CSX Says Bridge Safe

Crude oil trains make daily crossings

By Michael Turton, August 1, 2014

A railway bridge located on the Hudson River across from Cold Spring has visibly deteriorated however its owner says it remains fit for daily use by freight trains. The bridge is located at milepost 51 on the River Line, a 132-mile stretch of track that runs from northern New Jersey to Selkirk, New York, just south of Albany. The bridge and the tracks are owned by the Florida-based CSX Corporation. At the bridge, the tracks are located just a few feet from the riverbank.

Concrete has crumbled beneath one of the bridge's vertical supports.

The span in question, along with a second bridge a few hundred yards to the south, crosses over a pair of narrow channels that enable waters from a wetland located west of the tracks to flow in and out freely as river levels change due to tides, wind and rain. Concrete that forms a part of the bridge’s structure has crumbled beneath a vertical support directly under the tracks.

In an email to The Paper, CSX Spokesperson Kristin Seay, said that the bridge is “current” with regard to its annual inspection. “It was last inspected on Feb. 6, 2014, and was determined to be safe for railroad operations.” Seay said that all CSX bridges are inspected annually.

The bridge to the south also shows signs of deterioration but to a lesser extent. On that structure, concrete has fallen away, exposing the reinforcing metal bar.

Oil transport by rail on the rise

The condition of tracks and bridges along the Hudson River has become more significant locally as part of a national trend which has seen an exponential increase in the transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail in recent years. On July 23, 2014, USA Today reported that “The number of oil-carrying cars run by seven major U.S. railroads jumped from 9,500 in 2008 to 407,761 in 2013…” Closer to home, Seay told The Paper that “CSX operates an average of two to three loaded crude oil trains per day over (the River Line) route…” That adds up to between 700 and 1,000 crude-oil trains that pass directly across from Philipstown each year.

An average of two or three trains carrying crude oil cross over the bridge daily.

Two high profile, rail-related tragedies that occurred in recent months no doubt add to local concern. Last July, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a train loaded with oil exploded, killing 47 people. Local insurance claims were estimated at $50 million. And in May of this year, a train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, dumping some 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the James River.

A July 23 editorial in the Albany Times Union underscored what it called “failure of government to adequately ensure rail safety” as evidenced by such accidents.

Federally regulated

Freight rail lines in the U.S. are regulated almost entirely at the federal level by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Federal law requires that all railroad companies inspect their own bridges on an annual basis — regardless of the size of the bridge. Companies must determine the load capacity of each bridge, certifying to the state where it is located that it is capable of bearing the daily load it must handle.

On July 23, the Federal Department of Transportation proposed comprehensive rules to improve crude oil transportation safety. Recommendations include an immediate phasing out of older tank cars, new standards for tanker cars that carry highly hazardous materials, reduced operating speeds, and required notification of first responders.

At the state level, the New York State Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Rail Safety Inspection Section participates in FRA safety programs — mainly for staff training and certification. Beau Duffy, DOT Director of Communications, told The Paper that the agency also conducts random inspections or “blitzes” of rail facilities, focusing on track conditions and mechanical equipment such as brakes and wheels. He said that DOT does not however inspect bridges.

National issue … local focus

The deteriorating bridge across from Cold Spring brings what has become a significant national issue into very local focus.

Commenting on the CSX bridge, a Federal Railroad Administration official told The Paper that the FRA would work with CSX to ensure it is in compliance with all federal safety standards noting that FRA inspectors regularly evaluate railroad companies’ bridge safety practices to identify potential weaknesses.

Local senior-elected officials also commented on the River Line bridge. “Like many of my neighbors, I’m extremely concerned about the integrity of this bridge,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-18th District, NY), when notified of the issue by The Paper. “I immediately brought this to the … attention of CSX, and I’ll work closely with officials to ensure inspections are conducted and any necessary repairs are done promptly. With billions of gallons of oil barreling down the Hudson, we must be vigilant that issues like this are addressed quickly — the safety of our neighbors, environment and communities is far too important.”

Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and has been working with the chairman of that committee to examine the environmental and economic impact of shipments of crude oil along the Hudson River.

New York State Sen. Terry Gipson (D-Dutchess, Putnam) also commented. “The impact of an oil train incident along the shore of the Hudson River would be devastating to our communities who rely on the river for their drinking water and our local economy,” Gipson said via email. “That is why I … have expressed strong concerns to our federal government about the need for safety improvements relating to the interstate transportation of crude oil along the Hudson River. This effort includes ensuring necessary track maintenance and infrastructure investments that will allow businesses to operate more effectively and safely.”

Photos by M. Turton

Feds: Oil train details not security sensitive

Repost from Associated Press

Feds: Oil train details not security sensitive

By Matthew Brown  |  Jun. 18, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. transportation officials said Wednesday that details about volatile oil train shipments are not sensitive security information, after railroads sought to keep the material from the public following a string of fiery accidents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered railroads to give state officials specifics on oil-train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents.

Railroads have convinced some states to sign agreements restricting the information’s release for business and security reasons.

But the Federal Railroad Administration determined the information is not sensitive information that must be withheld from the public to protect security, said Kevin Thompson, the agency’s associate administrator.

Thompson added that railroads could have appropriate claims that the information should be kept confidential for business reasons, but said states and railroads would have to work that out.

Montana officials said they intend to publicly release the oil-train information next week.

The move is mandated under the state’s open records law and will help protect public safety by raising community awareness, said Andrew Huff, chief legal counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock.

“Part of the whole reason the federal government ordered that this information be given to states is to protect the communities through which these trains roll,” Huff told The Associated Press. “If there’s not some federal pre-emption or specific regulation or statute that prevents release of this information, then under our records laws we have to release it.”

Washington state officials also have said the oil-train details should be made public under state law. Last week, they gave railroads 10 days to seek a court injunction challenging the release of the information.

An oil-train derailment and explosion in Quebec last July killed 47 people. Subsequent derailments and fires in Alabama, North Dakota, Virginia and New Brunswick have drawn criticism from lawmakers in Congress that transportation officials have not done enough to safeguard against further explosions.

In response to the accidents, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in last month’s order that railroads must provide the details on routing and oil-train volumes to states. The order covered trains hauling a million gallons of oil or more from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.

The Bakken’s light, sweet crude is more volatile than many other types of oil. It’s been involved in most of the major accidents as the crude-by-rail industry rapidly expanded during the past several years.

Some states have agreed to requests from BNSF Railway, CSX and Union Pacific to keep the information confidential after the railroads cited security concerns. Those include California, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and Colorado.

Officials in New York, North Dakota and Wisconsin said they still were weighing whether restrictions on the information would violate state open-records laws.

State officials who questioned the confidentiality agreements sought by the railroads have said the notifications about oil trains were not specific enough to pose a security risk.

BNSF — the main carrier of crude oil in many western states — was notified late Tuesday of Montana’s intentions. A representative of the Texas-based company had said in a June 13 letter that BNSF would consider legal action if Montana moved to release the details on oil shipments.

“We must be cognizant that there is a real potential for the criminal misuse of this data in a way that could cause harm to your community or other communities along the rail route,” wrote Patrick Brady, BNSF’s director of hazardous materials, in a letter to a senior official at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Company spokesman Matt Jones said Wednesday that at this time BNSF has no plans to ask a court to intervene.

While it’s important for emergency planners to have the information, Jones added, BNSF will “continue to urge discretion in the wider distribution of specific details.”

A second railroad, Montana Rail Link, submitted notifications earlier this month revealing that its tracks were carrying three oil trains a week along a route from Huntley, Montana, to Sandpoint, Idaho. The railroad said the trains pass through as many as 12 counties across southern and western Montana and through Bonner County in Idaho, according to copies of the documents obtained by the AP.

U.S. crude oil shipments by rail topped a record 110,000 carloads in the first quarter of 2014. That was the highest volume ever moved by rail, spurred by the booming production of shale oil from the Northern Plains and other parts of the country, according to the Association of American Railroads.