Tag Archives: Railway Supply Institute

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

By Justin Mikulka, July 21, 2016 – 13:00

In the most recent oil-by-rail accident in Mosier, Oregon the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) concluded that the tank cars involved — the jacketed CPC-1232 type — “performed as expected.” So an oil train derailing at the relatively slow speed of 25 mph should be “expected” to have breached cars resulting in fiery explosions.

Current regulations allow those tank cars to continue rolling on the track carrying volatile Bakken crude oil and ethanol until 2025 with no modifications.

Yet industry lobbying group the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) has now requested the Federal Railroad Administration to essentially allow these jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars to remain on the tracks for decades beyond 2025.

This was just one of the troubling facts that came to light at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) roundtable on tank car safety on July 13th, and perhaps the one of greatest concern to anyone living in an oil train blast zone like Mosier, Oregon.

Just Re-Stencil It and Call It a DOT 117

One of the biggest risks with Bakken oil train accidents is that often the only way to deal with the fires is to let them burn themselves out. This can result in full tank cars becoming engulfed in flames for hours or days in what is known as a pool fire. This can lead to a “thermal tear” in the tank and the signature mushroom cloud of fire so often seen with these derailments.

The new regulations address this issue by requiring tank cars to have a layer of ceramic insulation covering the entire tank car to prevent the oil from heating up to the point of creating a thermal tear (ceramic shown in pink in the image below.)


Image credit: NTSB

However, the RSI has requested the FRA to allow the existing jacketed CPC-1232 cars, like the ones in the Mosier accident, to not require the ceramic thermal protection.

The industry’s argument is that the current fiberglass insulation on the CPC-1232 is sufficient protection. However, the fact that the fiberglass insulation was not designed to protect the contents of a tank car from fire does not seem to bother the RSI.

At the same time the RSI is arguing against thermal protection for CPC-1232s, the RSI has helpful videos on its website explaining the new safety features for DOT-117 tank cars — including “thermal protection.”

The NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt summed up what this request would mean in one simple statement at the July 13 round table event saying, “the same type of cars as in Mosier can be re-stenciled as DOT-117R with nothing more than a new bottom outlet valve.” [R stands for retrofit.]

So, they are essentially asking to paint over the CPC-1232 label on the tank cars with a DOT-117 while doing nothing more than changing the bottom outlet valve. Which means we should expect many more accidents like Mosier in the future since most of these CPC-1232 cars are only a few years old and they have an expected working life of 30-40 years.

As Robert Sumwalt said in his opening statement explaining why we should expect many more fiery oil train derailments with the existing tank car fleet, “just do the math.”

Industry Arguments Laughable If Not For the Consequences

Would you believe that one of the arguments made at the roundtable in favor of not requiring thermal protection on these cars was that the oil itself acts as a heat sink? Which is true. Until the point where the oil absorbs so much heat from the fire that the tank car explodes.

However, the reason this argument is given credibility is that the regulations only require a tank car to endure sitting in a pool fire for 100 minutes without exploding. Forget the fact that many of the Bakken oil train accidents have involved fires that burned for days.

This 100-minute limit was the same reasoning used to justify the fiberglass insulation on the current jacketed CPC-1232 as offering sufficient protection, as per the industry request. Which led to the following exchange between the NTSB’s Sumwalt and RSI representative John Byrne.

Byrne: “In our own modeling the fiberglass insulation system met the federal requirement for thermal protection.”

Sumwalt: “But in reality in the fiberglass situation, doesn’t the fiberglass all just melt… doesn’t it also melt and all end up pooling down in the bottom in the void between the blanket and the shell?”

Byrne: “Basically yes…but at the same time, that whole system acts as a thermal protection system in that it meets the requirement based on the federal law.”

Sumwalt: “Ok, thanks. So it meets the requirements.”

So, along with the oil itself being offered as adequate thermal protection, we also get fiberglass that melts in a fire being offered as protection for anyone in the blast zone.

So what did the regulators have to say about this absurd argument?

FRA’s Karl Alexy made it clear that “industry” concerns were receiving serious consideration saying, “we’re not taking it lightly, we understand what it means to industry… be certain that we are taking this very seriously.”

Well, we do understand what it means to the industry. Adding ceramic thermal protection would cut into profits. And one thing that was made clear repeatedly during the day’s discussion was that this was all about the money and that safety was only for people worried about “risk.”

As usual when there is a discussion about oil train safety, the oil industry lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute had a seat at the table. API representative Susan Lemieux cut to the heart of the issue with some actual honesty.

“In the industry we don’t see transportation as a risk, it is just a function of business.”

Why try to improve the situation when you don’t see any risk?

The FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have informed DeSmog that they will issue a formal response to the industry’s request to allow the fiberglass to qualify as thermal protection in the near future.

The Ground Rules - Profits Over Safety

In the above slide shown of the DOT-117, there is one other important thing to note. The shells on those tank cars are 9/16th of an inch thick. The shells of the jacketed CPC-1232 are 7/16th of an inch thick. This difference has safety implications as the thinner shells rupture more easily.  The RSI points out this fact in a video on its website about the advantages of the thicker shells on the DOT-117 which they say are “less prone to puncture.”

But the more important difference, as we have pointed out repeatedly at DeSmog, is that safer car designs are heavier, which means they can transport less oil per car. That lower capacity again cuts into profits. This point was made by ExxonMobil in a slide they presented to regulators arguing against thicker tank shells.

While Exxon was not at the roundtable, plenty of oil and rail industry representatives were, and they made this point very clear.

Gabe Claypool, President of oil train operators Dakota Plains, explained why it made economic sense to use CPC-1232s over DOT-117s.

“A lot of it’s economics as well…we were just having a conversation around the sizing of the car, the 1232 car type is very much in abundance and it is also a larger car. In the current category of still trying to be profitable, if I can get that extra volume in a larger car that is still regulatorally [sic] compliant, they’re [sic] gonna stick with that.”

Richard Kloster of rail consulting firm Alltranstek was one of the more vocal participants during the roundtable and he repeatedly made points about the economics of retrofitting the CPC-1232 over buying the new DOT-117 saying, “The retrofit is always going to win economically.”

Kloster also made it clear where the industry put its priorities when it came to safety versus profit saying, “There has got to be a balance between safety and the economic viability of moving these products by rail” and that there were a “lot of cases, you know, where economics wins all the time but risk trumps economics in some cases.”

Economics wins all the time.

There was one representative from labor at the roundtable who did not offer a comment until the final closing segment, but he also shared the reality of what was driving the decisionmaking when he discussed the need for safety but stated, “I know it’s about money.”

ExxonMobil Wins Again

So, in the end, ExxonMobil and the oil industry have won again. Watching this roundtable and the many congressional hearings and previous NTSB events in the past few years and seeing the lack of progress on real safety improvements, it almost seems like this all was orchestrated from the start.

In the years leading up to the latest tank car rulemaking, the industry essentially ordered a whole new fleet of CPC-1232 cars which they are currently using. The CPC-1232 cars have the thinner tank shells which makes them more prone to puncture and also more profitable. And they are ok to use, unchanged, until 2025. If the industry request is approved, those cars will just need new bottom outlet valves after 2025.

Regardless, they will always have the thinner tank shells, like Exxon wanted.

At the end of the July 13 event, Robert Sumwalt made an interesting statement. He said, “some of us met yesterday to go over the ground rules.”

The meeting where they went over the ground rules was not open to the public or media. If one were to hazard a guess as to what the first and foremost ground rule set was, it would be a safe bet to posit it was that “economics wins all the time.”

Blog Image Credit: Dawn Faught via NTSB

 

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NY TIMES / AP: Slow Progress Seen on Faulty Rail Cars

Repost from the New York Times (AP)

Upgrades to Unsafe Tank Cars Could Take 15 Years, Board Says

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press, July 13, 2016, 2:30 A.M. E.D.T.
Oil Train Accidents

FILE–In this June 3, 2016, file frame from video provided by KGW-TV, smoke billows from a Union Pacific train that derailed near Mosier, Ore., in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. U.S. safety officials say they’ve seen slow progress in efforts to upgrade or replace tens of thousands of rupture-prone rail cars used to transport oil and ethanol, despite a string of fiery derailments. (KGW-TV via AP, file)

BILLINGS, Mont. — Accident-prone tank cars used to haul crude oil and ethanol by rail could remain in service for another 15 years under federal rules that allow companies to phase in upgrades to the aging fleet, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Transportation officials and railroad representatives have touted the rules as a key piece of their efforts to stave off future disasters, following a string of fiery derailments and major spills that raised concerns about the crude-by-rail industry.

Yet without mandatory, periodic benchmarks for meeting the requirements, the decision to upgrade to safer tank car designs “is left entirely to tank car fleet owners, and may be driven by market factor influences, not safety improvements,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Tom Simpson with the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car manufacturers and owners, said the industry is committed to putting stronger cars in place. Members of the group will meet deadlines for replacing or upgrading the cars, he said, noting that demand for rail cars has eased after crude-by-rail shipments decreased over the past two years in response to lower oil prices.

“The need to modify or install new cars isn’t as urgent as when the rule was issued,” Simpson said.

In recent years, accidents involving the older cars have occurred in Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Illinois, West Virginia and Canada.

The most notable was in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway oil train derailed in 2013. During the most recent accident last month in Oregon, 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, sparking a massive fire that burned for 14 hours near the small town of Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge.

Cars built before the rule was enacted do not have to be fully replaced until 2029, although most would have to come off the tracks sooner.

Just over 10,300 stronger tank cars mandated by the new rules are available for service, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press from the Association of American Railroads.

That’s equivalent to roughly 20 percent of the 51,500 tank cars used to haul crude and ethanol during the first quarter of 2016.

Transportation Department Press Secretary Clark Pettig said in response to the NTSB’s criticism that the schedule to retrofit older cars was locked in by Congress in a transportation bill approved last year. The Congressional deadline represents “the absolute last moment” to meet the new standards, Pettig said.

“We agree with NTSB that industry should work to beat those deadlines,” he said.

A Wednesday meeting was planned in Washington, D.C., where government and industry officials were set to update the safety board on progress addressing the issue.

Safety board member Robert Sumwalt told the Associated Press that federal regulators need to set milestones to hold the industry accountable.

“There’s been 28 accidents over the past 10 years. That’s almost three accidents a year,” Sumwalt said. “Unfortunately, history shows we probably will have more accidents involving flammable liquids.”

A bill from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and other Democratic lawmakers would offer tax credits for companies that upgrade their cars during the next several years.

“Communities near train tracks, like Mosier, Oregon, must be confident that companies are using the safest tank cars possible,” Wyden said.

The railroad association said only 700 of the least resilient model of the older-style tank cars remain in service. Most of the cars in current use have at least some improvements, such as shields at either end of the car to help prevent punctures during derailments.

Transportation officials cautioned, however, that thousands of idled “legacy cars” could quickly come back online if oil prices rise and shipment volumes rebound.

Most tank cars are owned or leased by companies that ship fuel by rail, not the railroads themselves.

“Every tank car carrying crude or ethanol needs to be upgraded or replaced,” said railroad association spokesman Ed Greenberg.

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RAIL SAFETY REPORT CARD: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Safety Report Card: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

By Justin Mikulka • Monday, May 9, 2016 – 15:12

A year ago, when Federal regulators announced new rules for “high hazard” trains moving crude oil and ethanol, the oil industry protested that the rules were too strict. The main point of contention made by the American Petroleum Institute (APIwas that the requirement to retrofit the unsafe DOT-111 and DOT-1232 tank cars within ten years did not allow enough time to get the job done.

Meanwhile, according to information recently provided to DeSmog by the Association of American Railroads, only 225 of the tank cars have been retrofitted in the past year. So, the API may have been onto something because at that rate it will take roughly 500 years to retrofit the entire fleet of DOT-111s and CPC-1232s based on government and industry estimates of fleet size of approximately 110,000.

As DeSmog reported earlier this year, the FAST Act transportation bill that passed in 2015 required that all DOT-111s that have not been retrofitted be retired from crude oil service by 2018. But the bill included the option that “The Secretary may extend the deadlines…if the Secretary determines that insufficient retrofitting shop capacity will prevent the phase-out of tank cars.”

However, prior to the new rule being finalized, Greg Saxton — a representative of leading tank car manufacturer Greenbrier — testified in Congress that there was sufficient shop capacity to meet the timeline noting that,“This is an aggressive timeline, we believe it is achievable.”

Saxton also made the assertion that the lack of new regulations was the issue that was delaying the safety retrofits.

The only thing holding the industry back is the government’s inaction on proposed new tank car design standards and a deadline for having an upgraded rail tank car fleet.”

Now a year after the new rule was announced, with a mere 225 cars undergoing the safety upgrades, it would appear that was not the only thing holding back the industry.

DeSmog reached out to the Railway Supply Institute, leading oil-by-rail carrier BNSF, and Greenbrier to inquire about the lack of retrofits to date and asked if shop capacity was an issue, but did not receive any response. The Association of American Railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration were unable to provide information on shop capacity.

Unlike Safety, Public Relations On Schedule

Despite not actually making any significant safety improvements to the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars — tank cars called an “unacceptable public risk” by a member of the National Transportation Safety Board — the public relations effort to push the idea that the issue has been addressed appears to be successful.

In an article published in Chicago Magazine in April 2016, the risks of oil-by-rail were covered in detail. However, that article included the following statement, “Those first-generation tank cars, called DOT-111s, have almost all been subjected to new protections, including having their shells reinforced with steel a sixteenth of an inch thicker than used in earlier models.”

But 225 tanker cars clearly does not qualify as “almost all” of the DOT-111 oil tank car fleet.

An article published shortly after the FAST Act was signed ran with the headline, “New Highway Bill Includes Tough Rules for Oil Trains.” Again, this would seem like overstating the reality of what the bill included.

As DeSmog has noted before, the oil and rail industries are very good at public relations when it concerns this topic. However, as when BNSF said they were buying 5,000 new tank cars that would exceed all safety standards, it often never results in anything more than a press release and some media coverage. BNSF never purchased the 5,000 tank cars.

Unsafe Tank Cars Can Carry More Oil and Bring Higher Profits

In January, Christopher A. Hart, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, presented his remarks on the NTSB’s safety “Most Wanted List” and once again mentioned the risk of the DOT-111s in moving crude oil.

“We have been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart said. “But an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time.”

Why would the industry want to take this risk? Could it be because unsafe cars are more profitable?

The more oil a tank car can haul, the more profitable that oil train will be. The way rail works is that the weight of the car plus the weight of the cargo can only combine to be a certain amount. If your tank car weighs less, you can put in more oil because it effectively has more capacity.

Exxon made this case to regulators prior to the rulemaking. Check out this slide the company presented that points out that adding safety measures “reduces capacity” — which reduces profit.

Tank cars full of volatile Bakken crude oil — deemed an “unacceptable public risk” by an NTSB member — continue to move through communities across North America. And the tank car owners are not moving to make the required safety retrofits.

While oil-by-rail traffic is declining with the current low oil prices, that is unlikely to continue. And with the lack of pipeline infrastructure needed to move dilbit from ever-increasing tar sands oil production, industry opinion holds that rail has a good chance of making a comeback. And they are going to need rail cars to move that oil.

The question remains: Will the Secretary of the Department of Transportation use the loophole in the FAST Act to grant the industry an extension on using DOT-111s past 2018?

If history is any indication, with rail safety improvements such as positive train control being repeatedly delayed for decades — including a recent three-year extension by Congress — it would appear that is a likely outcome if the DOT-111s are needed by the oil industry.

This makes the prediction by the head of the NTSB that “an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time” all the more likely to eventually occur.

Blog Image Credit: Justin Mikulka

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