Tag Archives: Railway Supply Institute

NY Times: New Oil Train Rules Are Hit From All Sides

Repost from The New York Times

New Oil Train Rules Are Hit From All Sides

By Jad Mouawad, May 1, 2015
An oil train rolls through Surrey, N.D., in the Bakken region, where oil production has grown at a spectacular rate in recent years. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Ending months of uncertainty and delays, federal regulators on Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by trains, saying the measures would improve rail safety and reduce the risks of a catastrophic event.

But the rules quickly came under criticism from many sides. Lawmakers and safety advocates said the regulations did not go far enough in protecting the public, while industry representatives said some provisions would be costly and yield few safety benefits.

More than two years in the making, the rules followed a spate of derailments, explosions and oil spills around the country that highlighted the hazards of shipping large quantities of potentially explosive material on rails. The regulations introduce a new tank car standard for oil and ethanol with better protections, and mandate the use of electronically controlled brakes.

Facing growing pressure from members of Congress as well as local and state officials, the Department of Transportation has taken repeated steps in the last two years to tackle the safety of oil trains and reassure the public. Last month, for example, it set lower speed limits for oil trains going through urban areas.

Under the new rules, the oldest, least safe tank cars would be replaced within three years with new cars that have thicker shells, higher safety shields and better fire protection. A later generation of tank cars, built since 2011 with more safety features, will have to be retrofitted or replaced by 2020.

Oil trains — with as many as 120 cars — have become common sights in cities like Philadelphia, Albany and Chicago as they make the slow journey from the Bakken region of North Dakota, where oil production has surged in recent years.

Local and state officials have complained that rail-friendly rules make it difficult to predict when trains will pass through.

But regulators retreated from a provision that would have forced railroads to notify communities of any oil train traffic. Instead, railroads will need to have only a “point of contact” for information related to the routing of hazardous materials.

Several members of Congress, particularly those representing states like Washington, Oregon, North Dakota and New York that have seen a surge in train traffic, said the rules did not go far enough and signaled that legislation might be needed.

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon said they were disappointed that transportation officials had not expanded public information about oil train routes.

“Instead of providing first responders more details about oil shipments, railroads will simply be required to give our firefighters a phone number,” they said.

Railroads said they welcomed the new regulations but objected to a provision that would require tank cars to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021. The Department of Transportation said the new brakes, known as E.C.P., are more effective than air brakes or dynamic brakes that are currently being used.

“The D.O.T. couldn’t make a safety case for E.C.P. but forged ahead anyway,” Edward R. Hamberger, the president and chief executive of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement. “I have a hard time believing the determination to impose E.C.P. brakes is anything but a rash rush to judgment.”

The railroad association has estimated in comments filed to the Transportation Department last year that installing the new brakes would cost $9,665 per tank car. The Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car makers, also pushed against the use of those brakes, saying their effectiveness was not proved and would not provide a significant safety advantage.

Transportation officials said the new type of brakes was already in use by some railroads for other types of commodities. Their use would decrease the chances of a catastrophic pileup, reduce the number of punctured cars in an accident, or allow train operators to stop faster if there was an obstacle on the tracks.

Sarah Feinberg, the acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said: “The mission of the F.R.A. is safety and not focusing on what is convenient or inexpensive or provides the most cost savings for the rail industry. When I focus on safety, I land on E.C.P. It’s a very black-and-white issue for me.”

There have been five explosions and spills this year alone, four in the United States and one in Canada. In July 2013, 47 people died in Canada after a runaway train derailed and exploded in the city of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

“I am hopeful the rail industry will accept this rule, and will follow this rule,” Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, said at a news conference in Washington. He appeared with Canada’s transport minister, Lisa Raitt, who said Canadian and American regulations would be aligned.

A central question before the administration was to determine what level of protection the new generation of cars should have and how quickly to roll them out.

The new rules create a new standard, “high-hazard flammable trains,” defined as “a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.”

By 2018, the rule would phase out older tank cars, DOT-111s, long known to be ill suited for transporting flammable material. A newer generation of cars, known as CPC-1232, would have to be retired or refitted to meet the new standard, DOT-117, by 2020.

All cars built under the DOT-117 standard after Oct. 1, 2015, will have a thicker nine-sixteenths-inch tank shell, a one-half-inch shield running the full height of the front and back of a tank car, thermal protection and improved pressure-relief valves and bottom outlet valves.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Friday’s announcement gave railroads too much time to remove older cars from service. Mr. Schumer was one of seven senators who unveiled a bill that would seek to impose a fee of $175 per shipment on older cars to speed up their removal from service.

“The good news is that the standards are predictable, but the bad news is that the phaseout time is too lenient,” Mr. Schumer said.

Senator Marie Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, was more forceful, saying that the new regulations also failed to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude, which is more likely to catch fire and explode than other forms of crude.

“It does nothing to address explosive volatility, very little to reduce the threat of rail car punctures, and is too slow on the removal of the most dangerous cars,” she said. “It’s more of a status quo rule.”

Oil companies, though, said the mandate to build new tank cars to replace older models starting in 2018 would stretch the industry’s manufacturing ability and lead to shortages.

Placing blame on the railroads, Jack Gerard, the chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, said regulators should focus instead on preventing derailments and enhancing track inspection and maintenance.

The spectacular growth of oil production from the Bakken region, negligible only a few years ago and now exceeding a million barrels a day, has transformed the domestic energy industry. It has placed the United States back on a path to oil self-sufficiency, and profoundly disrupted international energy markets.

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    1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment

    Repost from Vindi.com, Youngstown OH
    [Editor:  Quoting Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for the Association of American Railroads: “We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard.”   – RS]

    1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment, study finds

    March 30, 2015 @ 12:05 a.m.

    Almost 1.4 million Ohioans live within a half-mile of railroad lines where some of the most-volatile crude oil in North America rolls by each week, a Columbus Dispatch analysis has found.

    Those people, about 12 percent of the state’s population, are at risk of being forced from their homes should a train hauling crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota run off the tracks.

    Most trains that transport crude oil stay on their tracks, but derailments can be catastrophic.

    A Bakken train that derailed in 2013 burst into flames, killing 47 people and destroying most of downtown Lac- Megantic, Quebec. Trains have wrecked in Ontario, as well as in Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, sending trains up in flames, prompting mass evacuations and, in some cases, obliterating homes.

    A Bakken train derailed in West Virginia last month, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and spilling oil into the Kanawha River.

    Teresa Mills, program director of the Buckeye Forest Council, said that both rail officials and the oil and gas industry should do more to keep people safe.

    “Before they leave the fields, before they pump that oil into a train, they should be required to make that oil less explosive,” Mills said. “And if they can’t transport it without its being so explosive — if the Bakken is so volatile that it can’t be transported without being explosive — then they should leave it in the ground.”

    The Bakken shale field stretches over northwestern North Dakota and into Montana and produces some of the most-desirable crude oil in the United States. It’s often less expensive than imported crude. It also requires less refining than other shale oils to be turned into diesel fuel or gasoline.

    But the same things that make Bakken crude such a good fuel source also make it highly flammable.

    Ohio, with its more than 5,300 miles of tracks, is a key junction between the Bakken region and East Coast oil refineries.

    Millions of gallons of Bakken crude come through Ohio each week on trains, according to the reports that railroad companies submit to the state. Those reports show that from 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken are moving on Ohio’s railroad tracks every week.

    That volume, combined with high-profile derailments, has prompted federal regulators, lawmakers, industrial lobbying groups and environmental nonprofit organizations to pay closer attention to how oil moves on rail lines throughout the country.

    “If it could happen in these other places. It could surely happen right here in Ohio,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group. “It could happen in a rural area, but it could also happen in a highly populated metropolitan area like Columbus.”

    The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that trains carrying crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year for the next 20 years. Property damage could top $4 billion, the DOT analysis, completed last summer, found.

    The department is preparing new rules on how crude oil is transported on tracks throughout the country. Last year, railroad companies voluntarily agreed to limit oil-train speeds to 40 mph in cities.

    Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, a trade group that represents railroad companies, said that organization has lobbied for tougher restrictions on the tanker cars that carry crude oil.

    “We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard,” Greenberg said.

    But keeping people along crude-oil shipping lines safe will take a comprehensive approach, said Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank-car owners and manufacturers.

    “The tank car is not the silver bullet. You cannot really design a tank car to withstand the derailment forces in a derailment, and so you can’t get the risk down to zero,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to look at the other factors, and that includes derailment prevention and ensuring [that] the materials have the proper packaging, and also educating the emergency-response personnel in the cities and villages along the right of way.”

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      LA TIMES: Crude-oil train wrecks raise questions about safety claims

      Repost from The Los Angeles Times
      [Editor:  Media coverage of late is quite repetitive, calling for better oil and rail safety standards.  This piece has significant new material, and is a must-read.  Quotes: “…about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.”  And, “Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and among the top safety experts in the country, believes the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains.  ‘We have never had a situation equivalent to 100 tank cars end to end traveling through local communities,’ Hall said. ‘This is probably the most pressing safety issue in the country. The industry has turned a deaf ear.'”  – RS]

      Crude-oil train wrecks raise questions about safety claims

      By Ralph Vartabedian, March 12, 2015 
      Oil train wreck in Ontario, Canada
      Flames erupt from the scene of a crude-oil train derailment Feb. 16 near Timmins, in Ontario, Canada. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

      Four accidents in the last month involving trains hauling crude oil across North America have sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, leaving some experts worried that public safety risks have been gravely underestimated.

      Crude trains have crashed in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Ontario, Canada, forcing evacuations of residents and causing extensive environmental contamination.

      The industry acknowledges that it needs to perform better, but says the trains are involved in derailments no more frequently than those hauling containers, grain or motor vehicles. Although the public doesn’t pay much attention, about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.

      Critics, however, say the industry’s position misses the point. All it is going to take is one major accident to change the entire calculus.

      Oil train wreck in Illiniois
      This crude-oil train derailment March 5 near Galena, Ill., was one of four in North America in the last month. (Mike Burley / Associated Press)

      Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and among the top safety experts in the country, believes the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains.

      “We have never had a situation equivalent to 100 tank cars end to end traveling through local communities,” Hall said. “This is probably the most pressing safety issue in the country. The industry has turned a deaf ear.”

      Crude shipments have skyrocketed from 29,605 cars in 2010 to 493,126 in 2014, though the growth rate appears to have flattened out over the last 12 months.

      As the shipments have grown, so has the number of accidents. The Assn. of American Railroads says there have been seven accidents that resulted in a spill of more than 5 gallons of oil in the last 18 months.

      The Times, based on public records and news accounts, found a total of 13 accidents in the U.S. and Canada since the July 2013 catastrophe at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in which 47 people died when a runaway oil train crashed into the center of the city.

      The crashes have occurred on bridges, along rivers, near downtowns and in the middle of farms, but none of them have caused the loss of human life since the Quebec accident.

      The key question is whether the industry is playing a game of Russian roulette, betting the trains will keep crashing in relatively safe rural sections of track.

      As long as the crashes do not threaten public safety, the economic losses to the petroleum companies do not appear to be a deterrent.

      Each tank car carries about 682 barrels of oil, worth about $33,000. A used tank car may be worth as little as $30,000, based on rail equipment broker websites. Thus, a derailment and loss of 15 cars with their crude could impose a loss of less than $1 million.

      Thomas D. Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, a trade group that represents tank car and other manufacturers, said the rail industry doesn’t have a lot of choice.

      Under federal law, it must carry any rail car that meets federal specifications. It means that when the petroleum industry fills a tank car with crude, the freight lines don’t have the option of telling them to take their business elsewhere.

      “They are betting their railroad that they are not going to blow up Los Angeles,” Simpson said.

      He said the industry had committed to a significant improvement in safety, in which tank cars would have heavier shells, crash shields and stronger valves. And it would retrofit existing cars with stronger shields and thermal protection that would delay fires or explosions.

      Simpson is confident that there is nothing about tank cars that makes them more likely to derail than any other type of rail car. “Tank cars don’t slosh and start rocking back and forth,” he said. “I asked that too.”

      The question remains why the crude-oil trains are crashing and whether they are crashing for the same reasons as other freight trains.

      Brigham McCown, former chief of the federal agency that sets tank car rules, said he believed the string of recent accidents had resulted from extreme weather this winter. The introduction of continuous welded track has made rails more vulnerable to expansion and contraction during temperature swings, experts say.

      Another big unknown is human error, which accounted for 38% of all accidents in 2014. The Federal Railroad Administration is still investigating the specific causes of many recent crude train accidents, but it appears so far that none in the U.S. has involved a clear-cut case of human error.

      Bill Kibben, a rail safety consultant who has worked for major railroads and government agencies, said accidents seldom occurred at a statistically even rate. “It is going to happen and it is going to be catastrophic,” Kibben said.

      Historically, human error accidents have accounted for some of the most serious losses of life.

      A decade ago, human error resulted in a train hauling chlorine gas to crash into a parked train on a siding, releasing poison gas that killed nine people and injured 250 others in Graniteville, S.C. In 2008, human error caused a head-on collision between a Metrolink train and a freight train in Chatsworth, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others.

      Kibben said that train crews were often affected by health concerns and fatigue, as well. In 2013, four people were killed in the Bronx, N.Y., when a train engineer sped into a curve, an error he later attributed to being in a daze.

      “We recognize the public’s deep concern,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the railroad association. “We acknowledge we need to work with other stakeholders.”

      Under a deal worked out last year with the Federal Railroad Administration, the rail industry agreed to operate crude trains at a maximum speed of 50 mph and slow down to 40 mph through some urban areas.

      Greenberg said the U.S. rail industry had driven down its accident rate by 42% since 2000, making 2014 its safest year on record.

      But environmentalists say safety rates for explosive products should not be compared to other merchandise.

      “There should be a moratorium on crude trains until sufficient protective measures are in place at the federal level,” said Mollie Matteson, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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        AP EXCLUSIVE: DOT predicts fuel-hauling trains will derail 10 times a year; cost $4 billion; 100’s killed

        Repost from Associated Press News
        [Editor: Download the July, 2014 Department of Transportation analysis here.  A word of caution: a reputable source writes, “On a closer inspection, PHMSA conceded that the numbers it used for the analysis are flawed and that the scenarios lined out in the AP story are assuming no new regulations are enacted.”  That said, my source also wrote, “We didn’t need a study to tell us there was a problem.”- RS]

        AP Exclusive: Fuel-hauling trains could derail at 10 a year

        By Matthew Brown and Josh Funk, Feb. 22, 2015 12:00 PM ET

        BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

        The projection comes from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities. The study completed last July took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with crude derailed in West Virginia, sparked a spectacular fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families.

        Monday’s accident was the latest in a spate of fiery derailments, and senior federal officials said it drives home the need for stronger tank cars, more effective braking systems and other safety improvements.

        “This underscores why we need to move as quickly as possible getting these regulations in place,” said Tim Butters, acting administrator for the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

        The volume of flammable liquids transported by rail has risen dramatically over the last decade, driven mostly by the oil shale boom in North Dakota and Montana. This year, rails are expected to move nearly 900,000 car loads of oil and ethanol in tankers. Each can hold 30,000 gallons of fuel.

        Based on past accident trends, anticipated shipping volumes and known ethanol and crude rail routes, the analysis predicted about 15 derailments in 2015, declining to about five a year by 2034.

        The 207 total derailments over the two-decade period would cause $4.5 billion in damage, according to the analysis, which predicts 10 “higher consequence events” causing more extensive damage and potential fatalities.

        If just one of those more severe accidents occurred in a high-population area, it could kill more than 200 people and cause roughly $6 billion in damage.

        “Such an event is unlikely, but such damages could occur when a substantial number of people are harmed or a particularly vulnerable environmental area is affected,” the analysis concluded.

        The two fuels travel through communities with an average population density of 283 people per square kilometer, according to the federal analysis. That means about 16 million Americans live within a half-kilometer of one of the lines.

        Such proximity is equivalent to the zone of destruction left by a July 2013 oil train explosion that killed 47 people and leveled much of downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the analysis said.

        Damage at Lac-Megantic has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

        A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads said the group was aware of the Department of Transportation analysis but had no comment on its derailment projections.

        “Our focus is to continue looking at ways to enhance the safe movement of rail transportation,” AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

        Both the railroad group and the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car owners and manufacturers, said federal officials had inflated damage estimates and exaggerated risk by assuming an accident even worse than Lac-Megantic, which was already an outlier because it involved a runaway train traveling 65 mph, far faster than others that had accidents.

        To get to refineries on the East and West coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, oil shipments travel through more than 400 counties, including major metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Newark and dozens of other cities, according to routing information obtained by The Associated Press through public record requests filed with more than two dozen states.

        Since 2006, the U.S. and Canada have seen at least 21 oil-train accidents and 33 ethanol train accidents involving a fire, derailment or significant amount of fuel spilled, according to federal accident records reviewed by the AP.

        At least nine of the trains, including the CSX train that derailed in West Virginia, were hauling oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region that is known for being highly volatile. Of those, seven resulted in fires.

        Both the West Virginia accident and a Jan. 14 oil train derailment and fire in Ontario involved recently built tank cars that were supposed to be an improvement to a decades-old model in wide use that has proven susceptible to spills, fires and explosions.

        Safety officials are pushing to make the tanker-car fleet even stronger and confronting opposition from energy companies and other tank car owners.

        Industry representatives say it could take a decade to retrofit and modify more than 50,000 tank cars, not the three years anticipated by federal officials, who assumed many cars would be put to new use hauling less-volatile Canadian tar-sands oil.

        The rail industry’s overall safety record steadily improved over the past decade, dropping from more than 3,000 accidents annually to fewer than 2,000 in 2013, the most recent year available, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

        But the historical record masks a spike in crude and ethanol accidents over the same time frame. Federal officials also say the sheer volume of ethanol and crude that is being transported – often in trains more than a mile long – sets the two fuels apart.

        Most of the proposed rules that regulators are expected to release this spring are designed to prevent a spill, rupture or other failure during a derailment. But they will not affect the likelihood of a crash, said Allan Zarembski, who leads the railroad engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware.

        Derailments can happen in many ways. A rail can break underneath a train. An axle can fail. A vehicle can block a crossing. Having a better tank car will not change that, but it should reduce the odds of a tank car leaking or rupturing, he said.

        Railroads last year voluntarily agreed to reduce oil train speeds to 40 mph in urban areas. Regulators said they are considering lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for trains not equipped with advanced braking systems. Oil and rail industries say it could cost $21 billion to develop and install the brakes, with minimal benefits.

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