Tag Archives: oil train

Lac Mégantic “bomb train” employees arrested: criminal negligence

Repost from the Boston Herald

Men charged in Quebec railway disaster in court

May 14, 2014  |  Associated Press
Photo by: The Associated Press  FILE – Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, Saturday, July 6, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson, File)

MONTREAL — Three railway employees arrested in the runaway oil train explosion that killed 47 people were arraigned and released on bail Tuesday. They face criminal negligence charges in the small Quebec town that was devastated by the horrific inferno, which led to calls for making oil trains safer across North America.

The men were arrested late Monday afternoon, about 10 months after more than 60 tankers carrying oil from North Dakota came loose in the middle of the night, sped downhill for nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) and derailed in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic in eastern Quebec, near the border with Maine. At least five of the tankers exploded, leveling about 30 buildings, including a popular bar that was filled with revelers enjoying a summer Friday night.

Quebec provincial prosecutor’s office laid 47 counts of criminal negligence, one for each person who died, against engineer Thomas Harding, manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, and Richard Labrie, the railway’s traffic controller. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., the defunct railway at the heart of the disaster, faces the same charges. Criminal negligence that causes death can result in a sentence of up to life imprisonment in Canada.

The three men entered the packed courthouse before a crowd of journalists and onlookers, including some residents who had lost family and friends.

No pleas were entered but Thomas Walsh, Harding’s lawyer, said his client will plead not guilty. The defendants were due to return to court in September.

Walsh said he had written to prosecutors several times asking that Harding to be allowed to turn himself if he was charged. Instead, Walsh said Harding was arrested by a SWAT team that swooped through his home and into his backyard, where he was working on his boat with a son and a friend. Police forced all three to drop to the ground.

“It was a complete piece of theatre that was totally unnecessary,” Walsh told The Associated Press.

Edward Burkhardt, who was chairman of MM&A, declined to comment.

The railroad blamed the engineer for failing to set enough brakes, allowing the train to begin rolling toward the town of 6,000.

Harding had left the train unattended overnight to sleep at an inn shortly before it barreled into Lac-Megantic.

The crash, the worst railway accident in Canada in nearly 150 years, prompted intense public pressure to make oil trains safer. Canada’s transport minister said in April that the type of tankers involved in the disaster must be retired or retrofitted within three years because they are prone to rupturing. The oil industry has rapidly moved to using trains to transport oil in part because of oil booms in North Dakota’s Bakken region and Alberta’s oil sands, and because of a lack of pipelines.

The arrests came just days before the bankrupt railroad’s sale closes.

The $15.85 million sale of MM&A is expected to close on Thursday in the U.S., but there could be a delay of a few days on a parallel proceeding in Canada. Most of the proceeds will be used to repay creditors. Eventually, there will be a settlement fund to compensate victims and repay cleanup costs.

The railroad’s buyer, a subsidiary of New York-based Fortress Investment Group, is changing the railroad’s name to Central Maine and Quebec Railway. The company said it hopes to recapture lost business but has no plans to try to bring back oil shipments.

Yannick Gagne, the owner of the Musi-Cafe, the establishment in the heart of town where many people were incinerated, has promised to make the new cafe a community gathering place as the town tries to move forward.

“You can understand, for me it’s a day full of emotion,” Gagne said.

Karine Blanchette, an employee who lost friends and colleagues, said she’s happy about the charges but nothing can erase the tragedy.

“Finally, there’s justice,” Blanchette said. “But it does not bring back the people we lost.”

____

Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto. David Sharp in Portland, Maine also contributed.
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Community right-to-know laws: what is in those “bomb trains”?

Repost from International Business Times

After Oil Train Accidents, US Communities Want To Know What’s Inside Rail Freight

By Meagan Clark  |  May 02 2014
North Dakota train explosion A plume of smoke rises behind a train near Casselton, N.D., Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Reuters

When an oil train derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoon, City Manager Kimball Payne was as surprised as any of the town’s 77,000 residents; he had no idea that crude oil was being moved through town on a regular basis.

The accident, in which three tank cars tumbled into the James River, spilling 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of crude, was just the latest in a series of fiery oil train accidents around the country, which have sparked debate about the safety of freight rail and raised concerns among residents often unaware of the oil, gas and chemicals being transported through their communities.

As crude-by-rail has increased across the country in recent years, increasing 443 percent nationwide between 2005 and 2012, accidents have been on the rise. In the past year, eight explosive accidents, some fatal, have rocked communities from Alabama to North Dakota. Last year, an accident in Quebec caused 47 deaths and the evacuation of more than 2,000 people.

Those accidents are prompting federal regulators to propose, as soon as next week, standards for rail tank cars carrying oil, announced Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Community right-to-know laws dating from 1986 require facilities to disclose what hazardous chemicals are stored and used in a town, but the laws don’t extend to trains. By federal law, railroad and oil companies don’t have to disclose their exact freight contents or when and how much of their freight will pass through localities.

“Our community has a right to know what’s going on,” Bart Mihailovich, director of the Riverkeepers program at the nonprofit Center for Justice in Spokane, Washington, said. “What trains are traveling through Spokane and the inland northwest, what’s in them, and how dangerous are they? We have a right to know about emergency response plans and the risks we’re assuming by living, working and playing in this area.”

Payne, Lynchburg’s city manager, has lived in the area for 13 years and said he didn’t know trains were carrying oil through the bustling downtown district until the derailment this week.

“But I don’t know what’s on the tractor trucks going through the city every day either,” Payne said. “What would we do if we did know?”

“If anything’s going to be changed, it’s going to have to be changed at the federal level or maybe the state level. I know I have no authority over those railroads.”

The mayor of Casselton, North Dakota, where an oil train crash on Dec. 30 spilled 400,000 gallons of crude and forced the evacuation of residents, estimates that seven or eight trains a day, most carrying oil, pass through the rural town everyday. Edward McConnell remembers the city council had concerns over chlorine riding the rails several years ago. While training the fire department, the town spoke with the state and federal transportation departments about the contents and amounts of freight passing through.

“Their basic answer was when we have an accident, you’ll know what’s in the cars by the placard,” he said. Red diamond-shaped placards with the numbers 1267 designate crude, though not what type of crude, which could indicate how flammable or explosive it is.

“It would be nice to know [more details of the cars’ contents], but I don’t think it’s something that’s going to get much traction,” McConnell said. “Railroads have a lot of friends in Congress, and they’re not going to let too many bills through that [the railroads] don’t want. I’ve been dealing with railroads a lot of years — you can go up against them but at the end of the day they pretty much get what they want.”

Activist Matt Landon has decided the only way to know what’s passing through his neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington, is to track it himself. In April, he organized a group of seven volunteers to count how many oil trains are passing by Vancouver Bluff and, with infrared cameras, to monitor hydrocarbon gas venting out of the tank cars, a phenomenon called burping or off gassing. He hopes his efforts over time will force the government to increase regulation on the rail and oil industries.

“We have to protect our community,” he said. “It’s even hard for first responders to have access to this information. The U.S. government is deciding not to protect our communities so we have to stand up.”

A plume of smoke rises behind a train near Casselton, N.D., Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Reuters

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Lynchburg emergency calls to 911

Repost from  ABC13, WSET TV Lynchburg, Danville, Roanoke

911 Train Derailment Tapes Released

Posted: May 05, 2014 6:43 PM PDT By James Gherardi

WSET.com – ABC13

Lynchburg, VA – The 911 recordings from Wednesday’s train derailment in downtown Lynchburg were released Monday, and the terror in the voice of some of the callers, is obvious.

You can hear men and women frantically scrambling to get help to the downtown disaster.

“Lynchburg 911, what’s the address of the emergency?” asked the dispatcher.

“We’re on Jefferson Street right now next to the tracks; we see the derailing of a train. There’s a large fire, a lot of smoke” said one caller.

Firsthand accounts of the downtown trail derailment came to life Monday.

“Do you know if anyone’s on the train?” asked the dispatcher.

“No it appears just to be a cargo train. I guess it’s carrying some type of flammable liquid” said the caller.

“It really looks like it’s going to explode and I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to move, I’m sorry” said another man.

This caller was frantic, losing his train of thought, while watching the flames fly.

“I came down by the City Hall and I saw huge black smoke. Oh my God, I can’t believe, I’m sorry” he said.

“Ok, we’ve got someone on the way” said the dispatcher.

“It’s like a huge ball of flames, it looks like it’s getting worse and it’s definitely a chemical spill probably” he replied.

Five days later, cars are clear from the river. Tracks have been relayed and trains have resumed travel.

But knowing now of the potential for what can happen here, there’s a new push.

“It caused us some significant worry and we really want to understand, what is the Federal DoT doing to make sure the regulations appropriately keep communities safe” said Senator Tim Kaine.

Virginia Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner urged the Department of Transportation Monday, to mandate upgrades in the transportation of crude oil by train, and to make sure cities are prepared to handle derailment disasters.

“You can’t prepare for a hazmat incident if you don’t know what exactly is being shipped. Your plan is only as good as the information you have about what’s coming through your community” he said.

Kaine said NTSB recommendations are one thing; whether they become safety standards is another. He said standards have got to be the case; Americans are transporting more oil by train now, than we were any year over the last decade.

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