Tag Archives: Sen. Bob Casey

Senate Republicans pushing 3-year delay for rail safety System

Repost from the New York Times

Senate to Debate 3-Year Delay for Rail Safety System

By Michael D. Shear, July 23, 2015
An Amtrak Acela train in New York bound for Pennsylvania Station. Amtrak has said it will complete installation of an advanced safety system for its trains in the Northeast Corridor by the current December 2015 deadline. Credit David Boe/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two months after the high-speed derailment of an Amtrak train killed eight people and injured hundreds more in Philadelphia, a Senate transportation bill headed for debate this week calls for a three-year delay of the deadline for installing a rail safety system that experts say would have almost certainly prevented the Pennsylvania accident.

Lawmakers from the Northeast and train safety experts expressed outrage over the provision, which is included in the 1,000-page legislation to finance highway and transit projects for the next three years. Several lawmakers vowed to fight the extension of the deadline to install the safety system, called positive train control, beyond December 2015.

“It should be done immediately. There shouldn’t be an extension,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. “Given the high number of accidents, and given the fact that P.T.C. is really effective, they should stick with 2015.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said he was “deeply disturbed about yet another delay in a potential safety measure” until December 2018 and said the provision in the transportation bill “essentially makes the deadline a mirage.”

In 2008, after decades of delay, lawmakers gave railroad companies, including Amtrak, seven years to complete installation of the safety system, which monitors the speed of trains and automatically slows them down if they approach curves at dangerously high speeds.

The Amtrak train that derailed in Pennsylvania was going 106 miles an hour, more than twice the speed limit, when it careened off the tracks.

Since the accident, Amtrak has said it will meet the existing deadline for installing and activating the safety systems in the busy Northeast Corridor. Craig S. Schulz, a spokesman for the railroad, said Thursday that Amtrak “remains committed” to making good on that promise.

But many railroads across the country still have not installed and activated the necessary equipment and would face federal fines and other mandates if they continued operating past Dec. 31 without it.

The transportation spending measure in the Senate would require railroads to submit plans to the secretary of transportation that include installation of positive train control by the end of 2018.

The willingness to give railroads more time is especially galling to lawmakers from the Northeast, where the Pennsylvania accident highlighted the dangers to millions of riders in the most heavily traveled train corridor in the nation.

Mark V. Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates train accidents, said he was outraged by the provision and blamed railroads’ lobbyists for pressuring lawmakers to include it.

“Obviously, the railroad lobbyists have gotten to Congress,” Mr. Rosenker said. “We just had a horrible accident. People died and people ended up becoming paralyzed when that technology was available to the railroad. I am very disappointed.”

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, also commented on the timing of the proposal. “The idea that a provision to delay positive train control was slipped into this bill just a short time after the Amtrak 188 derailment is shocking and wrong,” he said. “Delaying P.T.C. is a bad idea, and this provision should be stripped out immediately.”

Officials at the Transportation Department are continuing to insist that railroads meet the current end-of-the-year deadline. And at the White House, the press secretary, Josh Earnest, spoke of concerns “about some of the safety provisions that are included in the bill” and said the administration would take a close look at those provisions.

But pressure is mounting in both parties to pass the transportation bill before the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money for road projects across the country. That could happen this summer if Congress does not approve a new long-term authorization for transportation spending. If the Senate passes its measure, it still must win passage in the House as well.

Several senators said concern about the rail safety provision could become a central part of the debate over the bill in the days ahead. Mr. Blumenthal said he disliked the language extending the deadline for railroads to install positive train control.

But in an interview, he said he might be able to accept a new deadline if Congress agreed to dedicate money from the Highway Trust Fund specifically for installation of the rail safety systems, especially for commuter train systems that are struggling to afford the equipment.

Mr. Blumenthal said he intended to propose amendments that would dedicate $570 million a year for three years to commuter-rail safety improvements. He said it was unclear whether Republicans, who control the Senate, would allow the amendments to be offered. And he said it was not certain how hard the Obama administration was willing to fight for them.

“I’m hoping they will lend the full weight of their authority,” he said. “It would make a difference.”

Backers of the deadline extension say they need it because the equipment is costly and time-consuming to install across thousands of miles of track.

They also say the provision gives the transportation secretary authority to reject railroad improvement plans on a case-by-case basis, which they said could leave some railroads subject to the current 2015 deadline. And they said the bill authorized the Transportation Department to prioritize money for rail safety even though it does not guarantee a specific amount of money to be spent from the trust fund.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, which represents freight and commuter systems, praised the provision, saying in a statement that it “sets a rigorous case-by-case framework with enforceable milestones that guarantees sustained and substantial progress, complete transparency and accountability, and a hard end date for full installation by 2018.”

But advocates of greater safety measures for trains said the railroads had been under orders to upgrade their safety systems for years and should have been able to meet the 2015 deadline, which was set by Congress after a California derailment in 2008 that killed 25 people.

Mr. Rosenker, who was acting chairman of the transportation safety board when the crash happened, said the seven-year deadline set by Congress after that crash should not be extended.

“Seven years, in my judgment, is a long time and an adequate time to do it,” he said. “The technology is out there. Let’s put it in.”

 

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McKeesport incident among derailments that prompt Sen. Casey to push ‘crude-by-rail’ rule

Repost from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

McKeesport incident among derailments that prompt Casey to push ‘crude-by-rail’ rule

By Patrick Cloonan, Feb. 27, 2015, 5:26 a.m.
Train cars hang off the side of a railroad bridge at the site of a train derailment in McKeesport on Sunday, June 8, 2014. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

A June 7 CSX freight train derailment on a bridge overlooking the Marina at McKees Point was one of at least three in the last 13 months on Southwestern Pennsylvania tracks.

That and other incidents — including last week’s West Virginia tanker accident — prompted U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, to call on federal officials to speed up implementation of a “crude by rail” rule governing oil shipments by freight trains.

“Crude oil shipments by rail have increased drastically over the past several years, largely due to the rise of oil production in North Dakota,” Casey wrote to Shaun Donovan, director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, in a letter released Thursday. “Large quantities of this oil travel through Pennsylvania and other states on a daily basis and are shipped by older rail cars that are prone to rupture.”

That included a Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX train carrying 100 tankers of crude oil through Mt. Carbon, W.Va., 30 miles southeast of Charleston.

Nineteen cars caught fire, oil leaked into the nearby Kanawha River, one house burned to the ground and at least one injury was reported.

Standards for such shipments have been devised by the federal Department of Transportation, with help from freight carriers.

“This is a complex issue with railroads working with policymakers to set the rules and with oil shippers to properly classify tank car contents,” Association of American Railroads spokesman Ed Greenberg said. “The federal government’s long-awaited rules will not only provide certainty, but we also feel (it will) chart a new course for ensuring the safer movement of crude oil by rail.”

The proposal must be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, which said it needs until May to finalize the rule.

“We know that rail transportation is crucial to our economy,” Casey said. “Millions of Americans live near these rail lines and have a right to expect … every step to protect them.”

Casey said he was addressing the Democratic Obama Administration and Republicans who control Congress. He said he pushed hard for funding passed last year that opens the door to hiring 15 new rail and hazardous material inspectors and retaining 45 rail safety positions.

“And we can use more,” the senator said.

Others heard him including the Association of American Railroads, a policy, research and technology entity whose members include all major North American freight carriers and Amtrak.

“America’s freight rail industry supports tougher tank car specifications and, for years, our association has called for stronger federal standards for tank cars,” Greenberg said.

As the Department of Transportation formulated its proposal last fall, the association submitted to the department what it called a comprehensive safety package for stronger tank cars.

Greenberg said it addressed increased shell thickness, use of jacket protection, thermal protection, full-height head shields, appropriately sized pressure relief devices, bottom-outlet handle protection and top-fittings protection.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle echoed Greenberg, saying CSX collaborated with the association and other industry partners in developing comments on the proposed new rules.

“Railroads have dramatically improved safety over the last three decades,” Greenberg said. That includes an investment of more than $575 billion since 1980 into the nation’s freight rail network.

Greenberg said freight railroads project spending $29 billion this year on safety-enhancing infrastructure and equipment.

“That said, we recognize more has to be done to ensure the safe movement of this product,” Greenberg said.

That came to light at 10:56 p.m. June 7 when a CSX train headed from New Castle to Connellsville crossed the trestle alongside the Jerome Bridge. Ten of 88 train cars derailed.

Three hung for a time over the Youghiogheny River as well as boats docked at the Marina.

“You could tell the wheels were not on the rail, even before the crash,” said Ashley Bound of Elizabeth. “We were in a boat about 50 feet away and, when I saw all the sparks, I said: ‘I don’t think that’s supposed to happen.’ I was freaking out. It was scary.”

Officials said no one was injured, no chemicals spilled and most cars were empty or carried scrap metal. CSX said a car with “light petroleum” remained upright and did not leak.

Casey referred to derailments last month in Uniontown and Philadelphia as well as the Feb. 13, 2014, derailment of 21 Norfolk Southern rail cars hauling propane gas and Canadian crude oil through Vandergrift.

There cars crashed into the MSI Corp. specialty metals factory. One car spilled 1,000 gallons of heavy crude, but no spillage reached the nearby Kiskiminetas River.

On Jan. 22 in Uniontown seven cars filled with sand for use in the Marcellus shale industry turned over within 2 feet of homes along Locust and East Penn streets.

According to various reports, 11 cars in a CSX train came off the tracks in South Philadelphia on Jan. 31, but the cars remained upright and no chemical leaks were detected.

“Pennsylvania has borne the brunt of many of these derailments,” Casey said. “It’s important for residents to have the peace of mind in knowing that the necessary actions are being taken to improve safety on our nation’s railways.” Carriers serving area towns say they agree.

“Safety is CSX’s highest priority, and we are sensitive to the concerns of the communities where we operate regarding the increasing volume of crude oil that is being moved by train,” Doolittle said.

“Norfolk Southern every day shoulders the obligation of being a common carrier, which means when a shipper gives us a hazardous materials tank car that meets current federal safety standards, we must haul it,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said. “No matter what comes out of proposed new regulations, Norfolk Southern wants the safest tank car to be moving on our network because safety is our top priority — safety of our employees, safety of our customers’ products, safety of the communities in which we operate.”

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