Tag Archives: Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx

First National Conference on Oil Train Threats – excellent report by Justin Mikulka

Repost from DeSmogBlog
[Editor:  Many thanks to Justin Mikulka for this excellent report on “Oil Train Response 2015,” nicely summarizing the important issues as well as the event.   Great photo below – click on it to enlarge so you can play Where’s Waldo.  :-)  For a local media report and some good links, see also my earlier posting.  – RS]

“We Need Not Be Polite” Hears First National Conference On Oil Train Threats

By Justin Mikulka • Wednesday, November 25, 2015 – 03:58
oil train conference

Oil Train Response 2015, 1st national conference on oil train threats, 11/14-15/15, Pittsburgh

On November 12th, I boarded a train headed to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the first national independent gathering focused on the topic of oil trains. The trip would take me through Philadelphia where an Amtrak train crashed in May resulting in eight fatalities and over 200 injuries.

There is general consensus that the accident would have been avoided if positive train control technology had been in place. In 2008, Congress mandated that positive train control be installed by the end of 2015. However, the railroads failed to do this and were recently given a three to five year extension by Congress after the rail companies threatened to shut down rail service if the mandate were enforced.

It is a reminder of the power of the rail lobbyists. Another example of this power is currently playing out in Congress. Earlier this year, the Senate voted to raise the amount of money that could go to victims of accidents such as the one in May. However, rail lobbyists and members of Congress are working to strip this change out of pending legislation.

Having covered the topic of oil trains for the past two years, none of this is surprising. The rail and oil lobbyists have been very effective at weakening new oil-by-rail regulations and achieving huge delays for any actual implementation of these changes.

In 2013, an oil train full of Bakken crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic resulting in a fire that killed 47 people. The existing regulations will allow trains like the one in Lac-Megantic to roll on the rails until 2023.

These known risks and lack of regulations have created new activists across the continent and the Oil Train Response 2015 conference was the first time they have all come together in one place to discuss the issue and organize together. The event was sponsored and organized by The Heinz FoundationFracTracker and ForestEthics.

The first day of the conference was designed to inform the attendees about various aspects of oil-by-rail transportation and included presentations from first responders, politicians, Riverkeepers, legal experts and railroad safety consultant Fred Millar.

What You Are Up Against

Ben Stuckart is president of the Spokane city council, a city currently seeing 15 oil trains a week and facing the potential of as many as 137 a week by 2020 by some estimates. During his presentation, Stuckart described a trip he took to Washington, D.C. to meet with Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to express his concerns about the oil trains.

“We sit down and we’re talking to him and he’s like ‘well here is what you are up against.’ He goes, ‘My first day in office.  BNSF and Union Pacific just showed up and walked into our office.’ And he asked up front what’s going on, I don’t have an appointment. ‘Oh there is an open door policy.’

The railroads have an open door policy. Do you know how long it took for me to get an appointment with transportation secretary Foxx?”

This isn’t the only time Secretary Foxx learned what we “are up against.”

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that when the White House was finalizing the new regulations, Secretary Foxx requested that the regulations address the volatility of Bakken crude oil. His request was denied.

Stuckart’s recounting of Foxx’s candid explanation of the reality of regulation in Washington, D.C. is an excellent example of the power of the industry, and provides insight into why these trains continue to run despite the known risks.

We Need Not Be Polite

Much of the morning session of the first day of the conference was devoted to emergency response, featuring three different presentations on the topic. A bit later, rail safety consultant Fred Millar took to the podium and wasted no time in getting everyone’s attention. With the earlier emergency response presenters flanking him on either side of the podium, Millar did not pull any punches.

“We need not be polite with the railroads and first responders,” Millar said. And then he proceeded to point out what a farce the idea of emergency response planning is regarding Bakken oil trains.

“It’s a lie,” Millar said as he showed a slide of emergency responders operating fire hoses standing very near a black rail tank car that was on fire. Millar noted that these are public relations efforts meant to calm the public, but the reality of a Bakken oil train accident is that everyone within a half mile is evacuated and the train is allowed to burn itself out because it is too dangerous for first responders to approach. Often the fires last for days.

Millar’s presentation was enthusiastically received by the conference audience. As he delivered one of his many hard-hitting lines to applause, an audience member could be heard saying, “He’s like a preacher up there!” However, as repeatedly noted in his presentation, his opinion is that very little is being done to address the risks of oil-by-rail transportation.

They Are Our Children

Things got a bit heated in the question and answer session following Millar’s presentation. One point of contention was that the first responders maintained that they need to keep information about oil trains secret so as to not help out “the bad guys” — an idea not well received by the many people in the audience living near oil train tracks.

Raymond DeMichiei, Pittsburgh’s Deputy Coordinator of Emergency Management, sparked the biggest outcry when he stated that he didn’t see why “people need to know how many daycare centers are within the blast zone.” Among the responses was a woman yelling, “They are our children!”

As the session came to a close, a frustrated DeMichiei said, “Get ‘em off the rails. I’ll be a happy guy.”  It was one point that everyone in the room could agree on.

FRA Administrator Grateful For Luck

A week before the conference, an ethanol train derailed in Wisconsin and spilled ethanol into the Mississippi River. The next day, an oil train derailed and spilled oil in a residential neighborhood in Wisconsin. On the first day of the conference, news broke that an oil train derailed near Philadelphia, although there was no spill.

Sarah Feinberg, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, commented on the accidents in Wisconsin saying, “We feel we got really lucky.” When I pointed out on Twitter that luck is currently a big part of the oil train safety plan, she responded.

While it is true that regulators are taking many steps to improve safety, it is also true that the oil and rail industries are working hard against any real improvements to safety. The dangerous oil is not being stabilized. The unsafe tank cars will be on the rails for at least eight more years. Modernized braking systems are years away and the industry is fighting that as well. And trains continue to run through many large cities.

On my train ride home from the conference, I saw many of the signature black tank cars on the rails. Some were carrying liquid petroleum gas, some ethanol and at least one was a unit train of oil cars (although likely empty as it was traveling West). The potential of an accident involving a commuter train and an oil train didn’t seem far fetched.

View from Amtrak train, photo by Justin Mikulka.

A National Movement Begins

The people gathered in Pittsburgh don’t want to rely on luck to protect their communities. They are committed to fighting for real rail safety, and they were clearly energized by this event. As Ben Stuckart said, “This is so awesome. I haven’t seen this big of a group about this very specific issue since I’ve been working on it the last four years.”

And that is good news for the 25 million people currently living within bomb train blast zones. Because if there is one lesson learned from the long delay over the implementation of positive train control, it is that this battle is likely to be a long and difficult effort.

Blog image credit: Paul Anderson
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5.7 Million children attend U.S. schools in an oil train blast zone – sign the petition

Repost from ForestEthics

Here’s a number you need to see: 57 MILLION CHILDREN

Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. safety officials and railroad execs: No More Oil Train Secrets. The first step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release critical documents that the rail companies are hiding from the public. (Click on the image and SIGN on the right side of the page.)

Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. safety officials and railroad execs: No More Oil Train Secrets. The first step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release critical documents that the rail companies are hiding from the public.

5.7 Million K-12 age children attend U.S. schools in the oil train blast zone–the area that must be evacuated in case of a derailment or fire from an oil train.

Massive growth of oil train traffic–over 5,000% since 2008 in the U.S.–means more derailments, oil spills into waterways, and massive explosions. 2015 alone has seen five explosive derailments in the U.S. and Canada. We now know that oil trains threaten 5,728,044 million children in 15,848 schools every day in the U.S. Our children deserve better.

But we don’t even know the details on the dangers of these trains–and neither do our first responders or our elected leaders. We don’t know because oil train companies like BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National are keeping four critical types of information hidden:

  1. The routing choices they make through cities, towns and sensitive areas;
  2. The worst case scenario models they create for your town;
  3. The insurance amount they have to cover themselves; and
  4. Their emergency response plans when the unthinkable happens.

We are calling these documents The Oil Train Secrets. The Federal Railroad Administration, the agency in the U.S. that is responsible for making the companies release these documents, isn’t doing its job–and neither is its boss, the U.S. Department of Transportation. But our future and our children are too important to let these critical documents stay secret.

Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. transportation officials (and the Railroad Execs themselves): the next step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release The Oil Train Secrets.


To: US Safety Officials and Railroad Executives
From: [Your Name]

To: Anthony Foxx of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Sarah Feinberg, Director of the Federal Railroad Administration
Re: Request for Release of Documents

Secretary Foxx and Director Feinberg:

On Tuesday, September 8th, 2015, ForestEthics released its estimate of the number of K-12 age students in schools in the evacuation zone for oil trains: 5.7 million. 5.7 million K-12 age students are among the 25 million Americans living in this blast zone.

Many local emergency planning and response agencies have testified in Congress and state and local legislatures that, in the absence of railroad risk analyses, they have been struggling to develop their own ability to respond to potential crude oil derailments. Local safety officials need information to protect our communities, especially schools. In the interests of public safety, we are formally asking your assistance in releasing the following documents:

1. Rail Companies own calculated Worst Case Scenarios for a potential oil train emergency in urban and sensitive environmental locales. Local and state officials have stated that they have never seen this essential crude oil release scenario information.

2. We also need to see rail company documentation on the levels of catastrophic insurance coverage each railroad company has been able to buy for potential serious releases in each jurisdiction. The insurers apparently have seen the railroads’ Worst Case Scenarios and have demonstrated a healthy and cautious concern about the scale of costly disasters that their companies might be responsible for covering. If the insurers can see it, so can the public.

3. We require the rail companies’ internal Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans for high hazard flammable trains (oil trains), both generic and for specific typical locations, urban and rural.

4. We also need rail companies’ up-to-now secret route analysis documentation and route selection results in each jurisdiction, pursuant to Congress’s 2007 Public Law 110-53, for urban hazmat safety and security routing for the currently covered cargoes of chlorine and ammonia, as well as for the newly-recognized “key trains” of crude oil and ethanol.

We are publicly demanding that you promptly assist the rail companies, who will be receiving a copy of this letter, to provide these key risk documents, up to now withheld from public view. Not only because our first responders and governments need them, but because our communities have a right to know to what chemical disaster risks various hazardous operations are exposing them. It is our assessment that the publication of these documents would aid your agencies in protecting the public and assisting first responders. Our children deserve nothing less than the safest learning environment and the best-informed first responders.

Sincerely,

ForestEthics and the undersigned,

++++++++++

Cc: Matt Rose
Executive Chairman, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad

Cc: John Koraleski
CEO, Union Pacific

Cc: Michael Ward
CEO, CSX

Cc: James Squires
CEO, Norfolk Southern

Cc: E. Hunter Harrison
CEO, Canadian Pacific

Cc: Claude Mongeau
CEO, Canadian National

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US Rep. Thompson & colleagues urge action on oil train safety

Repost from Representative Mike Thompson’s website
[Editor: see also the full text of the Reps’ letter below this press release.  – RS]

Reps. Thompson, Matsui, Miller & Garamendi Send Letter To Secretary Of Transportation Foxx Requesting Immediate Action To Improve Safety Of Crude Oil Shipped By Rail

Jul 1, 2014  |  Press Release
Letter calls on DOT to expedite rules and issue regulations to improve safety of crude shipments and prevent future accidents

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Mike Thompson (CA-05), Doris Matsui (CA-06), George Miller (CA-11) and John Garamendi (CA-03) sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx expressing strong concern over the increased shipments of crude oil by rail in their districts, and calling for action to increase safety.

“We are especially concerned with the high risks involved with transporting lighter, more flammable crude in densely populated areas. Should spills or explosions occur, as we have seen over the last year, the consequences could be disastrous, costing lives, damaging property, and harming the environment,” the members wrote. “While we are pleased with the many actions that DOT has taken thus far and we believe that your agency is making steady progress, we must still emphasize the utmost importance of demonstrated compliance with federal regulations by the railroad and petroleum industries.  We believe there must be accountability and comprehensive oversight, as well as adherence to the most stringent of standards.”

Specifically, the letter calls on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to:

  • Provide a report on the level of compliance by the railroad and petroleum industry to the May 7th Emergency Order that requires information be shared in a timely manner with local entities.
  • Issue a rulemaking that requires stripping out the most volatile elements from Bakken crude before it is loaded onto rail cars.
  • Expedite the issuance of a final rulemaking to require the full implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology for all railroads transporting lighter crude and provide a status report on the progress of PTC implementation to date.
  • Expedite the issuance of a rulemaking that requires phasing out old rail cars for newer, retrofitted cars.

The full text of the letter is below:

July 1, 2014

The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Secretary Foxx:

As members of the California Congressional Delegation, we are writing to voice our strong concerns over the increased shipment of crude oil by rail in our districts and the safety risks associated with this upsurge. Northern California is already seeing a significant increase in the movement of oil through our local communities, and the number of shipments is only expected to rise in the coming years. We commend the Department of Transportation (DOT) for its focus thus far on more information sharing, slower speeds, and reinforced railcars. As you know, the solutions for this important safety issue must be multi-pronged and implemented as quickly as possible, which requires a strong and coordinated effort by the federal government to achieve an effective solution.

We are especially concerned with the high risks involved with transporting lighter, more flammable crude in densely populated areas. Should spills or explosions occur, as we have seen over the last year, the consequences could be disastrous, costing lives, damaging property, and harming the environment. While we are pleased with the many actions that DOT has taken thus far and we believe that your agency is making steady progress, we must still emphasize the utmost importance of demonstrated compliance with federal regulations by the railroad and petroleum industries.  We believe there must be accountability and comprehensive oversight, as well as adherence to the most stringent of standards.

We appreciate your agency’s May 7th Emergency Order that requires carriers to provide State Emergency Response Commissions with advance notice because it is imperative that local emergency managers and first responders are given up-to-date information on what materials are being transported through their regions, when these transports are occurring, and where this crude oil will be stored. But, because improved coordination and communication between the oil companies, railroads, and emergency managers is so fundamental to the safe transport of highly flammable lighter crude, we request a full report on the level of compliance by the oil companies and railroads to date.

Additionally, we urge your agency to prioritize implementing solutions in an expeditious manner that we believe will better protect our communities. One such solution would remove a significant amount of the volatile elements, flammable natural gas liquids (NGLs), from the crude before it is loaded onto rail cars and we understand that regulators are already considering this course of action. In order for industry to comply, they would need to build small processing towers known as stabilizers that shave off NGLs from crude before it is ultimately loaded for transport. Stabilizers are common in other parts of the country and we understand that this could also be feasible through equipment leasing.  Because your agency has explicitly stated that all options are on table, we believe that requiring the petroleum industry to make lighter crude shipments by rail less volatile must be a part of the solution. And, although building infrastructure will require time and investment, industry experts have also publicly stated that stripping NGLs from lighter crude is a part of the equation for addressing railcar safety.

Furthermore, we believe that positive train control (PTC) advanced technology should be fully implemented as it is designed to automatically stop or slow a train before accidents can occur.  Derailments must be avoided at all costs and PTC should be prioritized due to its accurate prevention of train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by excessive speed and unauthorized movement of trains.  We believe that an expedited final rulemaking requiring full implementation of PTC is needed for those railroads that will be transporting lighter crude by rail through our communities.

Yet another solution that has been considered and in some cases the oil industry has initiated, is switching out older rail cars for new, retrofitted ones.  We urge your agency to issue a rulemaking to require phasing out and retrofitting older tank cars that do not have the latest safety technologies installed in order to further minimize the impact of an explosion, if a derailment with lighter crude were to occur.

As all of these federal emergency orders and standards are being considered and final regulations are set to come out next year, we request that your agency provide us ongoing information regarding industry compliance and develop ambitious standards that will both prevent derailments and ensure that industry workers and communities are protected in cases where derailments do occur.  We cannot allow communities to be in danger when viable solutions are available.

To sum up our requests, we would like your agency to:

  • Provide a report on the level of compliance by the railroad and petroleum industry to the May 7th Emergency Order.
  • Issue rulemaking that requires stripping out the most volatile elements from Bakken crude before it is loaded onto rail cars.
  • Expedite the issuance of a final rulemaking to require the full implementation of PTC technology for all railroads transporting lighter crude and provide a status report on the progress of PTC implementation to date.
  • Expedite the issuance of a rulemaking that requires phasing out old rail cars for newer, retrofitted cars.

We believe that we must be vigilant and put in place strict safety regulations that can adapt and meet the rapidly changing transportation and energy needs of our country. Thank you for your continued elevation of these important safety issues, and we look forward to working with you on this matter.

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