Repost from Progressive Railroading [Editor: Significant quote: “A preliminary report issued last week by the Federal Railroad Administration determined that UP did not adequately inspect tracks in the area and that an electronic braking system would have resulted in fewer derailed cars.” – RS]
Washington Gov. Inslee calls on USDOT to step up crude-by-rail oversight
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee met late last week with Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg to call for a halt to Bakken crude-oil trains through his state until additional federal safety requirements are in place.
The meeting was held in the wake of a Bakken crude-oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., which resulted in a fire that burned for several hours near the Columbia River Gorge. The Union Pacific Railroad train originated in New Town, N.D., and was on its way to Tacoma, Wash., when the derailment occurred.
A preliminary report issued last week by the Federal Railroad Administration determined that UP did not adequately inspect tracks in the area and that an electronic braking system would have resulted in fewer derailed cars. Sixteen cars derailed in the incident.
“It is unclear at this point whether the FRA has the authority to order a stop to unsafe oil train transport, but they committed to looking into what they can do and will revisit what can be done to halt UP’s Bakken oil train transport until necessary safety improvements are made,” said Inslee in a prepared statement.
Inslee also made a separate request to UP to halt all oil train shipments through Washington until the Class I improves its track inspection protocols.
In the past, the governor has criticized the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for not going far enough to strengthen federal oversight of crude-by-rail shipment.
“Action at the federal level is imperative. Slower train speeds, faster phase-out of older tank cars and electronic braking systems are real actions that can prevent potentially devastating accidents,” Inslee said. “I made clear to Feinberg that federal regulators need to act on these things immediately.”
House bill could shield oil train spill response plans from disclosure
By Curtis Tate, October 16, 2015
Oil burns at the site of a March 5, 2015, train derailment near Galena, Ill. A bill in Congress would require railroads to have comprehensive oil spill response plans, but would also give the Secretary of Transportation the ability to exempt the details from disclosure. EPA
Six-year transportation bill includes section on oil trains
Obama administration supports public notifications of oil spills, etc.
Future transportation secretary could be empowered to protect data
WASHINGTON – A House of Representatives bill unveiled Friday could make it more difficult for the public to know how prepared railroads are for responding to oil spills from trains, their worst-case scenarios and how much oil is being transported by rail through communities.
The language appears in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s six-year transportation legislation, which primarily addresses federal programs that support state road, bridge and transit projects. But the legislation also includes a section on oil trains.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is working on a rule to require railroads shipping oil to develop comprehensive spill response plans along the lines of those required for pipelines and waterborne vessels. It would also require them to assess their worst-case scenarios for oil spills, including quantity and location.
The House bill would give the secretary of transportation the power to decide what information would not be disclosed to the public.
The secretary would have discretion to withhold anything proprietary or security sensitive, as well as “specific response resources and tactical resource deployment plans” and “the specific amount and location of worst-case discharges, including the process by which a railroad carrier determines the worst-case discharge.”
The House bill defines “worst-case discharge” as the largest foreseeable release of oil in an accident or incident, as determined by the rail carrier.
Four major oil train derailments have occurred in the U.S. since the beginning of the year, resulting in the release of more than 600,000 gallons, according to federal spill data.
Numerous states have released information on crude by rail shipments to McClatchy and other news organizations. DOT began requiring railroads to notify state officials of such shipments last year after a train derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Va.
The disclosures were opposed by railroads and their trade associations, which asked the department to drop the requirement. The department tried to accommodate the industry’s concerns in its May final rule on oil train safety by making the reports exempt from disclosure. But facing backlash from lawmakers and emergency response groups, the department reversed itself.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Sarah Feinberg, the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the department would continue the disclosure requirement and make it permanent. But a new administration could take a different approach.
“We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible,” Feinberg said in July.
In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that would require railroads operating in the state to plan for their worst-case spills.
In April, BNSF Railway told state emergency responders that the company currently considers 150,000 gallons of crude oil, enough to fill five rail tank cars, its worst-case scenario when planning for spills into waterways. A typical 100-car oil train carries about 3 million gallons.
Washington state requires marine ships that transport oil to plan for a spill of the entire cargo.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted a mock derailment in New Jersey in March in which 450,000 gallons of oil was released.
California passed a similar bill last year, but two railroads and a major trade association challenged it in court, claiming the federal laws regulating railroads preempted state laws. A judge sided with the state in June, but without addressing the preemption question.
The House Transportation Committee will consider the six-year bill when lawmakers return from recess next week. The current legislation expires on Oct. 29, and the timing makes a short-term extension likely.
After the committee and the full House vote on the bill, House and Senate leaders will have to work out their differences before the bill goes to the president’s desk.
Samantha Wohlfeil of the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald contributed.
Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no
By Lee Bergquist, Sept. 13, 2015
Despite urging from a federal agency that railroads hand over more information on safety conditions of bridges, a carrier moving Bakken crude oil through Milwaukee says it doesn’t plan to provide such details.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) distributed a letter from Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in which the regulator urged railroad carriers to provide more information to municipalities on the safety status of bridges. Milwaukee officials have complained about the lack of information on the structural integrity of railroad bridges used by Canadian Pacific in the city.
“When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response,” Feinberg wrote.
“I urge you to engage more directly with local leaders and provide more timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound.”
“CP’s position has not changed,” said Andy Cummings, a manager of media relations for the company.
“It is our policy to work directly with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is our regulator, on any concerns they have with our infrastructure.”
The exchange comes in the wake of growing concerns from communities along rail corridors used by railroads shipping a growing tide of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota.
Those worries have been exacerbated by tanker accidents. The most notable is the July 2013 derailment of tankers that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The tankers had been routed through Milwaukee before the accident.
There have been no accidents involving crude in Wisconsin, but on March 5 a BNSF Railway train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., after leaving Wisconsin. Twenty-one tankers derailed. Galena is about 10 miles south of the border.
In Milwaukee, one bridge in question is a 300-foot-long structure, known as a steel stringer bridge, at W. Oregon St. and S. 1st St. The bridge was constructed in 1919, according to Bridgehunter.com, which keeps a database of historic bridges.
Canadian Pacific said on Sept. 1 that it would encase 13 of the bridge’s steel columns with concrete to prevent further corrosion and to extend the life of the columns. The carrier said last week that a protective layer of concrete will be applied late this month.
Since last spring, neighbors have expressed worries about the integrity of the bridge, and since July city officials have sought details on the condition of the bridge.
In addition to the threat to human safety, environmental groups such as Milwaukee Riverkeeper say about three dozen bridges cross rivers and streams in the Milwaukee River basin.
On Sunday, a flotilla of kayaks and canoes paddled at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers to underscore the connection between trains and the city’s waterways.
Bridges must be inspected annually by railroads. But railroads are not required to submit the information to the federal agency. Railroads also are not required to make the information available to the public.
Cummings said the bridge on S. 1st St. has been inspected by a railroad bridge inspector. “We are confident in its ability to safely handle freight and passenger train traffic,” Cummings said.
In her letter, Feinberg said the agency is “re-evaluating” its programs to determine whether it needs to take additional steps.
Common Council President Michael Murphy said he isn’t satisfied by Feinberg’s comments.
“I would liked to have seen a little more teeth in it,” he said.
Murphy said Canadian Pacific should be more transparent, adding that he expects the company to brief the council’s public safety panel soon on the bridge’s condition.
Baldwin and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, also a Democrat, said in an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune last week that oil trains have put “hundreds of communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin at risk for the explosive crashes that come when an oil train derails.”
Nationally, trains carrying crude oil in the United States have jumped from 10,840 carloads in 2009 to 233,698 in 2012 to 493,127 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Canadian Pacific is shipping seven to 11 Bakken crude trains a week through Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, according to the latest data sent to the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management. BNSF is shipping 20 to 30 trainloads along the Mississippi River.
In a federal transportation bill that has passed the Senate but not yet the House, Baldwin and Franken said they added language that would make oil train information available for first responders. It would also give state and local officials access to inspection records of bridges.
Cheryl Nenn of Riverkeeper said a rail accident that spilled crude could have long-lasting effects on the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, and Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water.
Complicating a potential oil spill in downtown Milwaukee is wave action from Lake Michigan, known as a seiche effect, where surging water from the lake can push water upstream, she said.
“The Milwaukee River is cleaner today than it has been in decades, and now we face a threat from crude oil,” Nenn said.
Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 14, 2015
A chorus of lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday with the delays in approving and implementing various regulations related to the movement of hazardous materials by rail and pipeline.
The acting chiefs of two U.S. Department of Transportation agencies heard Republicans and Democrats in the House Transportation Committee complain that rules on railroad tank cars and oil and gas pipelines had been on the table for as long as four years.
“It’s just unacceptable,” said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
Sarah Feinberg of the Federal Railroad Administration and Tim Butters of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration noted that they have little choice but to work within a multi-step process that involves public comment, industry participation and multiple layers of review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“It’s not built for speed,” Feinberg testified. “I wish that it was.”
Butters said that his agency had received 30,000 comments on its proposed rule to improve the safety of oil trains. He said the agency needed to evaluate them as part of its process.
“We have to go through all of those,” he said. “And that takes time.”
But a series of train derailments and pipeline failures in recent years has caught the attention of members of Congress, who are hearing concerns from their constituents.
“That’s just an excuse,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., the panel’s chairman. “Four years is too long.”
Last week, Feinberg visited Denham’s district in Central California to discuss pending rules on the construction of tank cars used to carry flammable liquids, the way the trains are operated and the way the tracks are inspected and maintained.
She also visited the Sacramento-area district of Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat who last month introduced legislation to regulate the volatility of crude oil loaded into tank cars. Texas and North Dakota, the nation’s leading oil producers, currently set such limits.
Garamendi proposed that the committee write the new rules into the larger surface transportation bill Congress needs to pass this year.
“We could write laws that protect the public,” he said. “Why don’t we do that?”
Acts of Congress don’t always make things go faster. In 2008, lawmakers mandated that railroads install a GPS-based collision-avoidance system called Positive Train Control by the end of 2015. But the nation’s freight and passenger railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline.
Once the new oil train rules become final, it could take years to retrofit or replace tens of thousands of tank cars used to transport the country’s supply of crude oil and ethanol.
As a sign of how slowly the process moves, Capuano noted that BNSF, the nation’s biggest hauler of crude oil in trains, has gotten ahead of regulators by voluntarily lowering train speeds, increasing track inspections and encouraging shippers to use better tank cars.
“Whose butt do we have to kick?” he asked. “Whose budget do we have to cut? Whose budget do we have to enhance to make this work?”