Tag Archives: Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency

Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated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Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated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And they were badly out of date.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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    NPR: What’s in those tank cars near the Amtrak derailment?

    Repost from State Impact Pennsylvania, NPR.org
    [Editor:  Quote: “Conrail knows what’s in the cars on their tracks but considers it proprietary information, not to be revealed unless there’s an emergency.”  – RS]

    What’s in those tank cars near the Amtrak derailment?

    By Susan Phillips, May 13, 2015 | 6:12 PM

    Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. The Amtrak train, headed to New York City, derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. The Amtrak train, headed to New York City, derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

    News footage of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia Tuesday night shows nearby tank cars that look similar to the rail cars carrying crude oil or other hazardous material across the country each day. In aerial photos, it looks as if the Amtrak train, traveling at 100 miles an hour, nearly missed creating an even greater catastrophe, if it had struck an oil train, say, or a train carrying chlorine gas. Residents quickly took to twitter, wondering what about the content of those tank cars, and whether it was hazardous.

    “This could be just one more in a litany of near misses,” said David Masur, director of PennEnvironment, an activist group working to ban oil trains.

    It wouldn’t be far-fetched for a passenger rail car to collide with an oil train, dozens of oil trains run through the state on their way to Philadelphia and South Jersey refineries each week. In fact, Norfolk Southern runs oil trains on a track that runs above Amtrak lines, close to the derailment. Bakken crude oil from North Dakota crosses those lines daily, traveling across the Delaware river, and down to refineries in South Jersey. WHYY reporter Tom MacDonald says he saw the black tankers about 50 yards from the derailed Amtrak train.

    But it’s still unclear what is in those tank cars.

    “It could be corn oil, it could be very benign stuff,” said Conrail spokesman John Enright.

    The accident occurred on Amtrak’s rail lines, but the scene is very close to a Conrail yard, which Enright says is used for local transport.

    “I know the sensitivity to the whole crude oil situation,” said Enright. “One shouldn’t presume anything.”

    Enright says Conrail knows what’s in the cars on their tracks but considers it proprietary information, not to be revealed unless there’s an emergency.

    “If there was an incident then that information would be readily available to [first responders],” he said.

    In this case, the Amtrak train did not hit any nearby freight cars, so the contents of the blank tankers remains a mystery.

    Norfolk Southern, which operates the oil trains that cross the Amtrak line, did not respond to requests for comment. And the American Association of Railroads would also not comment on the freight rail traffic in the area. Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management would not comment on the contents, saying they were focusing on the accident itself.

    But rail safety experts say the accident could have been much worse if the Amtrak train did hit those black tank cars, and if those cars were carrying explosive or flammable material.

    A passenger is carried following an Amtrak train crash Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. Train 188 was traveling from Washington to New York City. (AP Photo/Paul Cheung)
    A passenger is carried following an Amtrak train crash Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. Train 188 was traveling from Washington to New York City. (AP Photo/Paul Cheung)

    Fred Millar is an independent rail safety expert.

    “Having the oil train sitting there is not necessarily an undangerous situation,” said Millar.

    Millar says, although it’s rare, trains have been known to run into each other. Federal investigators recently released a report about an oil train explosion in North Dakota in 2013, where the train hit a derailed freight train.

    “One kind of industrial accident can set off another,” he said.

    Not only would the death toll be higher, but the neighborhood would need to be evacuated.

    Jim Blaze is an economist and railroad consultant who worked in the railroad industry for 30 years.

    “Let’s say there was [hazardous material] in those rail cars,” said Blaze. “If the cars cracked open, it could have been an explosive force and caused a chain reaction. What would the casualty rate have been as a result? Could you imagine evacuating 750,000 people? What’s that going to cost? What’s the lost business revenue?”

    Not only is it unclear what’s in those nearby tank cars. It’s unclear if Philadelphia’s first responders would be ready. The city’s Office of Emergency Management says it’s done exercises to prepare. But it’s not clear if the exercise has included passenger rail cars.

    Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency spokesman Cory Angell says that’s not a scenario he’s heard discussed.

    Delaware County’s Office of Emergency Management says the risk of an Amtrak or regional rail line hitting an oil train is low because the passenger rail cars don’t run in close proximity to the oil trains as they do in Philadelphia. Ed Truitt runs Delco’s OEM.

    “We’ve looked at a lot of different scenarios and that was never conceived as being a threat in Delaware County,” said Truitt.

    Truitt says the rail cars only travel between midnight and 5 AM through the county.

    Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to block the implementation of new oil train safety rules.

     

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      Amtrak provides crude oil train details states had withheld

      Repost from McClatchyDC
      [Editor: The author notes that this method of obtaining information on transport of crude by rail “only worked in the few places where Amtrak owns or controls track over which freight trains operate.”  – RS]

      Amtrak provides crude oil train details states had withheld

      By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 4, 2014
      US NEWS RAILSAFETY MCT
      Empty tank cars roll south along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at Newark, Del., on July 28, 2013. The cars were unloaded at the nearby PBF refinery in Delaware City, Del., and are heading back to North Dakota for another shipment. (Curtis Tate/MCT)

      — Two loaded and two empty crude oil trains operate daily over Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Maryland and Delaware, according a document submitted by the passenger railroad in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

      Last month, Norfolk Southern, the freight railroad that operates the crude oil trains, went to court in Maryland to block the state Department of the Environment from making the same information available to McClatchy and the Associated Press.

      The Amtrak document also contains some details of Norfolk Southern’s crude oil train operations in Pennsylvania. That state last month denied requests from McClatchy and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to provide information about the shipments.

      Dave Pidgeon, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, declined to comment.

      In May, following a series of derailments, fires and spills involving crude oil trains, the U.S. Department of Transportation required railroads to notify states about train shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil to help emergency responders better prepare for an incident.

      There is no federal law that shields the crude oil train information from public release. Nonetheless, railroads asked states to sign confidentiality agreements, and some states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania, complied.

      However, other states, including California, Washington, Illinois and Florida, did not sign the agreements and have made the crude oil train details available to McClatchy and other news organizations.

      In Maryland, according to documents filed on July 23 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, state Attorney General Doug Gansler’s office had voided the confidentiality agreements that a state official had signed. However, both Norfolk Southern and rival carrier CSX contested the attorney general’s ruling and sought an injunction to prevent the imminent release of the records.

      Pennsylvania is one of the largest single destinations in the country for Bakken crude oil by train. On Monday, McClatchy appealed the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s denial of an open records request for crude oil train details there.

      Amtrak owns or controls lines in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware that Norfolk Southern uses for freight. The national passenger railroad is subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

      According to Amtrak, Norfolk Southern’s crude oil trains operate over 21 miles of the Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger train route in the country. The crude oil trains travel between Perryville, Md., and Newark, Del., sometimes alongside Amtrak’s passenger trains. They also use a portion of a line east of Harrisburg, Pa., that Amtrak controls.

      The trains are generally 100 cars and weigh 13,500 tons loaded and 4,000 tons empty. By contrast, Amtrak’s flagship Acela Express trains include two locomotives and six cars, weighing a total of 624 tons.

      Freight trains commonly operate over the Northeast Corridor at night, but some run during the day. Amtrak restricts Norfolk Southern’s crude oil trains to 30 mph from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Overnight, the trains can operate at 50 mph.

      Norfolk Southern crude oil trains cannot exceed 135 cars on Amtrak lines.

      The Norfolk Southern trains supply the PBF Energy refinery in Delaware City, Del. The facility closed in 2009, only to be revived with rail deliveries of domestic crude oil.

      Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/08/04/235391/amtrak-provides-crude-oil-train.html?sp=/99/200/#storylink=cpy

       

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