Tag Archives: Parked trains

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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Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated

Repost from McClatchyDC

Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated

By Curtis Tate, September 12, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS
•  McClatchy received reports it asked for in 2014
•  Documents contained data previously revealed
•  Economics of crude by rail have shifted since

After more than a year, McClatchy finally got the oil train reports it had requested from Maryland.

And they were badly out of date.

Last year, McClatchy filed open-records requests in about 30 states for the documents, and was the first news organization to do so in Maryland, in June 2014.

Maryland was poised to release the records in July 2014, when two railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, sued the state Department of the Environment to block the disclosure.

Finally last month, a state judge ruled in the favor of the release, marking the first time a court had affirmed what many other states had already done without getting sued.

The documents McClatchy and other news organizations ultimately received were dated June 2014, not long after the U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring the railroads to notify state officials of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil.

After more than a year, however, the economics of shipping crude by rail had changed substantially.

Amid a slump in oil prices, refineries once receiving multiple trainloads of North American crude oil every day have switched, at least temporarily, to waterborne foreign imports.

The trend is reflected from the East Coast to the West Coast, where long strings of surplus tank cars have been parked on lightly used rail lines, generating rental income for small railroads but also the ire of nearby residents.

The documents released in Maryland show that in June 2014, Norfolk Southern was moving as many as 16 oil trains a week through Cecil County on its way to a refinery in Delaware.

But McClatchy has known that since August 2014, when it received a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Amtrak.

The Delaware News Journal reported that the PBF Refinery in Delaware City, Del., now receives only about 40,000 barrels a day of crude by rail. That’s about 56 loaded tank cars, or half a unit train, nowhere close to the volume of mid-2014.

The June 2014 Maryland documents also show that CSX was moving as many as five oil trains a week on a route from western Maryland through downtown Baltimore toward refineries in Philadelphia.

But that had been clear since at least October 2014, when the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency released its oil train reports showing an identical number of CSX trains crossing from western Pennsylvania into Maryland, then back into southeast Pennsylvania.

CSX told the Baltimore Sun that it had not regularly moved a loaded oil train through Baltimore since the third quarter of 2014. The company had earlier told the newspaper that it moved empty oil trains through the city and state.

Federal regulators never required railroads to report empty oil train movements.

The vast majority of loaded CSX oil trains move to Philadelphia via Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, N.Y., and northern New Jersey, according to records from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

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Benicia city council to send letter supporting safer rail measures

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor:  See original documents on the City of Benicia’s website:
      – Staff’s Agenda Report
      – Mayor Patterson’s draft letter of support (not approved)
      – League of Cities letter requesting letters of support & sample letter (sample letter approved)
For a local news report that fails to describe the City’s recommendations in the letter, see The Benicia Herald.  (The Herald previously detailed these recommendations.)  – RS]

Benicia council to send letter supporting safer rail measures

By Irma Widjojo, 04/08/15, 8:36 PM PDT

Benicia >> The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a letter in support of several rail safety recommendations to the Federal Office of Management and Budget.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson asked the council to consider sending the letter as requested by the League of Cities, of which Benicia is a member.

The league has adopted 10 recommendation as official policy to “increase rail safety in the transport of hazardous materials.”

The recommendations include mandating speed limits and electronically controlled braking systems, increasing the federal funding for training and equipment purchases for first responders, regulating the parking and storage of tank cars and others.

Patterson on Tuesday said sending such a letter usually doesn’t require it to be presented in a city council meeting, however City Councilman Tom Campbell has voiced his concerns due to the pending Valero Crude by Rail project.

“I wanted the city attorney to give an opinion if we are going to run into an issue of possibly prejudicing ourselves,” Campbell said Tuesday.

The city is currently processing the use permit and Environmental Impact Report for the project.

City Attorney Heather McLaughlin said there would not be an issue of bias, since the letter only states that “we just want the oil transported safely.”

Though the council voted unanimously to send the letter, they opted for the version that was provided by the league, instead of the one that was slightly edited by Patterson.

“I would go along with the language of the league as provided for consistency,” Vice Mayor Mark Hughes said.

A Benicia resident and environmental activist spoke during the public comment period stating that the letter will not have any effect on the Valero project.

“The letter is not going to make much impact as much as I appreciate the spirit of it,” Marilyn Bardet said. “The rail will be built before any policy is put in place.”

Patterson has also has been an outspoken advocate of tougher crude-by-rail safety measures.

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