Tag Archives: Rockland NY

Inspectors find rotting ties, loose bolts, bad brakes in Rockland NY

Repost from The White Plains NY Journal News on LoHud.com

Rotting ties, loose bolts found on CSX track near Rockland

Khurram Saeed, March 17, 2015 4:50 p.m. EDT

Inspectors found five problem spots, including a number of deteriorated cross ties, between Newburgh and Haverstraw on CSX’s River Line, which carries oil trains through Rockland County.

TJN 0317 LoweyOilTrains
(Photo: Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

Crumbling railroad ties and loose bolts were some of the defects recently discovered on the freight line used by oil trains to travel through Rockland.

State and federal inspectors found five problem spots along 22 miles of track, including two switches, on CSX’s River Line from Newburgh to Haverstraw. The most serious defect was a number of deteriorated cross ties along a short section of track near the Rockland border in Fort Montgomery, Orange County.

The flaw, deemed a “critical defect,” doesn’t necessarily indicate a safety lapse but an important maintenance issue that “must be addressed,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said in a news release Tuesday. The cross ties have since been repaired.

Inspectors from the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration last week also identified four non-critical defects in Haverstraw and Fort Montgomery, including loose switch bolts and insufficient ballast.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day said CSX should be making these fixes “without being prompted” by the state.

“They’re breaking a trust with the public at this point and they really need to step up their game,” Day told The Journal News.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the railroad’s inspections on all crude oil routes exceed federal standards. He said those routes undergo visual inspections at least three times a week; track-geometry inspections two or three times a year; and ultrasound inspections three to 12 times a year.

“As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, we look for lessons that can be applied to our programs going forward whenever an external authority identifies a defect in our infrastructure,” Doolittle said in an email.

The state review was the latest in a series of inspections of nearly 1,000 miles of tracks and the tank cars that carry Bakken crude oil across New York. Up to 30 trains, typically made up of 100 tank cars, each week make their way south through four of Rockland’s five towns on their way to refineries.

Officials said statewide they uncovered 93 defects, seven of which were critical. They included thin brake shoes o NYn the tank cars and missing bolts on the rails. In all, state and federal inspectors examined 453 crude oil tank cars and approximately 148 miles of track.

DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald praised inspectors for finding “numerous track and rail car maintenance issues that were quickly addressed.” Non-critical defects have to be fixed with 30 days, while a tank car can’t leave the rail yard until its problem has been repaired.

Derailments this year involving mile-long trains hauling Bakken crude in the U.S. and Canada have further heightened concerns about their safety. That’s because some of the tank cars were newer models equipped with greater protections designed to reduce the risk of explosions and fires.

Last month, a Maine fire chief spoke in Rockland to warn firefighters and officials about the dangers and difficulty of battling Bakken crude fires.

Here are the major accidents involving oil trains so far this year:

  • Feb. 14: A 100-car Canadian National Railway train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed in a remote part of Ontario, Canada.
  • Feb. 16: A 109-car CSX oil train derailed and caught fire near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation.
  • March 5: Twenty-one cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train hauling oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota derailed about 3 miles outside Galena, Illinois, a town of about 3,000 in the state’s northwest corner.
  • March 7: A 94-car Canadian National Railway crude oil train derailed about 3 miles outside the Northern Ontario town of Gogama and destroyed a bridge. The accident was only 23 miles from the Feb. 14th derailment.

Last year, railroads moved nearly 500,000 tank cars of crude oil compared to just 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. Amid this domestic oil boom, new federal safety regulations for the tank cars are being finalized and expected to be made public in May.

The Associated Press contributed information to this article.
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    Federal inspectors find 100 defects on crude oil trains, tracks

    Repost from the White Plains NY Journal News on LoHud.com
    [Editor: Significant quote: “At the CSX-owned Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, 106 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars were checked and three had found to have critical defects, including a cracked weld, a missing bolt and one inoperative brake assembly….Since the state began its “inspection blitz” last February, inspectors have examined 7,368 rail cars (including 5,360 DOT-111s) and 2,659 miles of track, uncovering 840 defects, and issuing 12 hazardous materials violations. The state recently hired five new rail inspectors.”  – RS]

    Inspectors find 100 defects on crude oil trains, tracks

    By Khurram Saeed, December 15, 2014
    train
    State and federal railroad safety officials have inspected more than 7,300 rail cars and 2,600 miles of track since last February in response to increase shipments of Bakken crude across nearly 1,000 miles of New York. (Photo: Associated Press)

    A broken rail, defective train car wheels and missing bolts on the tracks were among some of the problems state and federal teams found during its most recent round of statewide inspections of oil trains and the rail lines they use.

    They identified 100 defects, including eight safety defects that require immediate action, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said in a release.

    Inspection teams from the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration on Dec. 9 examined 704 crude oil tank cars and about 95 miles of track as part of the state’s on-going response to a surge in rail shipments of Bakken crude across nearly 1,000 miles of New York.

    They did not look at the River Line, the track owned by CSX Corp. that runs through the Hudson Valley, including Rockland. As many as 30 trains carrying 80 to 100 tank cars filled with explosive crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota head south to East Coast refineries.

    But the inspection of 15 miles of CSX-owned mainline track near Albany found a critical switch gauge defect that required a speed reduction, the release said. They also discovered four non-critical defects, including loose bolts. They must be repaired within 30 days.

    “We have sent inspection crews to check rail tracks and crude oil cars across New York and we continue to find critical safety defects that put New Yorkers at risk,” Cuomo said in a statement.

    Crude oil tank cars, especially the older DOT-111 models are also in the spotlight because they have been involved in several accidents, including an derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013. Bakken crude is volatile and can catch fire should the tank rupture or derail.

    The federal government is reviewing rules that would increase safety standards.

    At the CSX-owned Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, 106 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars were checked and three had found to have critical defects, including a cracked weld, a missing bolt and one inoperative brake assembly.

    CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said in an email that the railroad “appreciates Governor Cuomo’s continued focus on making the safe transportation of energy products even safer,” adding that CSX is “committed to strong, ongoing and long-term coordination with state and local officials.”

    Since the state began its “inspection blitz” last February, inspectors have examined 7,368 rail cars (including 5,360 DOT-111s) and 2,659 miles of track, uncovering 840 defects, and issuing 12 hazardous materials violations. The state recently hired five new rail inspectors.

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      Oil train risks push communities to prepare for worst – “Little Black Bullets”

      Repost from Poughkeepsie Journal
      [Editor: Significant quote: “The U.S. Department of Transportation acknowledged in its proposed rule that an another accident isn’t a question of if, but when.  “Absent this proposed rule, we predict about 15 mainline derailments for 2015, falling to a prediction of about 5 mainline derailments annually by 2034,” the department’s proposal stated. Reviews and lawsuits mean it could be years before the rule is implemented.”  – RS]

      Oil train risks push communities to prepare for worst

      Khurram Saeed   |   August 21, 2014
      The home of Doris Quinones is less than 100 feet away from the CSX railroad track, on which as many as 4 oil trains pass by every day, not to mention freight trains carrying other hazardous chemicals. An oil train is seen passing from the yard of Doris Quinones, July 31, 2014 in Haverstraw.(Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

      Little black bullets.

      That’s what Doris Quinones calls the dozens of outdated tank cars filled with crude oil that rumble yards away from her Haverstraw home every day.

      One train hauling oil can have up to 100 cars, and as many as 30 oil trains pass through Rockland each week on the way to refineries. That’s twice the number from just six months ago as demand continues to grow for the volatile crude oil drawn from the Bakken region in North Dakota.

      Those trains also pass through Ulster County.

      In Highland, the trains roll past a restaurant and a Hudson River waterfront park that is being outfitted with a new deep-water dock for tour boats.

      Ulster County’s vulnerable infrastructure includes drinking water intakes for Port Ewen and the Town of Lloyd.

      A 100-car oil train can carry 3 million gallons of crude oil, and because so many more are on the rails, the number of derailments and accidents is rising.

      The oil trains, which do not travel on a set schedule, roll through four of Rockland’s five towns on CSX Railroad’s River Line. Fully loaded trains run north to south, less than a mile from Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, Lake DeForest reservoir in Clarkstown, the Palisades Center in West Nyack and Dominican College in Blauvelt, not to mention dozens of neighborhoods, scores of schools and day care centers and right past key highways like the Thruway.

      Given her proximity to the tracks, Quinones said a derailed train would “land in my living room.”

      “We’re all realists,” Quinones said recently in her backyard, where she sometimes lounges in her swimming pool and tends to her cucumbers. “They got to get something somewhere. It’s got to go on the freight train but they got to take extra measures even if it costs them more money.”

      The oil trains are hard to miss, and the safety issues surrounding them, particularly their tank cars, have become harder to ignore. There have been a number of fiery explosions and accidents since 2013 that have caused officials at all levels to look closer at the dangers of shipping oil by rail.

      Just over a year ago, 47 people died when an unattended oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Rockland had a close call in December when an oil train transporting 99 empty tank cars from Philadelphia to North Dakota hit a truck stuck on the crossing in West Nyack, sending the truck’s driver to the hospital.

      Planning for worst

      Peter Miller, chief of the Highland Fire District, said firefighters took part in a drill in Kingston on May 30, along with other fire departments. The drill was sponsored by the Ulster County Emergency Services Department and CSX.

      He said the district’s response plans are constantly being updated, particularly now that the Bakken crude is rolling through.

      “We upgrade our training and our response plans to cover what we would do, depending on where the incident is,” he said.

      Even as federal transportation officials are proposing more stringent requirements for tank cars to make them safer, Rockland’s first responders are planning for nightmare scenarios and how to evacuate thousands of people quickly in a catastrophe or have them stay where they are.

      “Our job is to really plan for the worst,” said Chris Jensen, Rockland County’s hazardous materials coordinator.

      Rockland emergency officials are finishing the evacuation map for residents and businesses within a mile of the River Line.

      It covers a mile on either side of the rail line, broken into half-mile sections, from Bear Mountain to the New Jersey border.

      Gordon Wren Jr., director of Rockland’s Office of Fire and Emergency Services, said the map “allows us to make the decisions quicker, faster.”

      “Do you evacuate or not? If so, how far?” Wren said.

      The map identifies schools, day care centers, nursing homes and senior housing, among other landmarks.

      “(A police officer) can look at that and say, ‘Let’s get the people out of here,’ ” said Dan Greeley, assistant director of the county Office of Fire and Emergency Services. “It happens instantaneously.”

      The U.S. Department of Transportation acknowledged in its proposed rule that an another accident isn’t a question of if, but when.

      “Absent this proposed rule, we predict about 15 mainline derailments for 2015, falling to a prediction of about 5 mainline derailments annually by 2034,” the department’s proposal stated. Reviews and lawsuits mean it could be years before the rule is implemented.

      In 2008, just 9,500 carloads of crude oil moved by rail. Last year, the figure exceeded 400,000, the Association of American Railroads said.

      Rail industry officials note that 99.9 percent of all hazardous rail shipments reach their destinations safely and that only rail has afforded the nation the flexibility to move large volumes of oil so quickly and freely, letting the United States wean itself off foreign oil.

      Susan Christopherson, chair of Cornell University’s city and regional planning department, said though pipelines are safer, oil shippers from western Canada and the Bakken shale region prefer trains because they provide flexibility from different points of origin to refineries nationwide.

      The problem, she said, is the Federal Railroad Administration has “little capacity” to regulate the rail industry or monitor rail infrastructure safety.

      “Costs for emergency preparedness have to be absorbed by state and local government,” Christopherson wrote in an email. “There is little or no compensation for these costs, which can be significant.”

      Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has become increasingly proactive, carrying out inspection blitzes of rail yards and leveling fines.

      ‘Witches’ brew’

      The River Line, part of CSX’s rail network, runs from outside Albany. In February, the railroad told The Journal News that two oil trains used the line daily, or 14 a week. By June, the railroad fixed the number of trains hauling 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude at 15 to 30, or up to four each day, according to documents it had to file with the state.

      CSX spokesman Gary Sease said there have been incremental increases in crude oil volume over the past several weeks with likely more to come. The railroad recently completed double-tracking work in north Rockland to increase capacity on the track.

      “It is a result of market conditions and can fluctuate,” Sease wrote in an email.

      “We see customers investing in additional crude oil terminals over the next couple of years.”

      Bakken crude oil is just the latest dangerous substance to travel the line, Jensen said. Toxic substances such as chlorine, ethanol, propane and vinyl chloride have moved on the former West Shore line for decades.

      “It’s a witches’ brew of stuff,” Jensen said.

      But one big difference is the amount of Bakken crude that passes through Ulster, Rockland and, for that matter, 15 other counties in New York.

      Aside from CSX, Canadian Pacific Railway hauls Bakken crude from the Midwest to Albany, with an average of one train a day with a million-plus gallons.

      In May, CSX began a first responders training program by bringing equipment and experts to communities to teach them about incidents involving crude oil. More than 1,000 people have been trained, he said.

      That’s a good start but more needs to be done, said Jerry DeLuca, executive director and CEO of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs.

      “You don’t fight an oil fire with water. We need to have foam and a lot of it,” said DeLuca, whose group represents more than 11,000 professional and volunteer fire chiefs. “It’s not something we utilize every day, so you have to be trained.”

      Poughkeepsie Journal staff writer John Ferro contributed to this report.
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