Tag Archives: Tank car maintenance

ForestEthics: Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow

Repost from ForestEthics (Also appearing in the Huffington Post)

Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow

By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, May 1, 2015
New Oil Train Rules (Photo/NOAA)
New Oil Train Rules (Photo/NOAA)

In the first three months of 2015 four oil train accidents sent emergency responders scrambling, crude oil spilling into drinking water supplies, and fireballs blasting into the sky. The string of accidents in February and March demonstrate the severe threat from Bakken crude and Alberta tar sands moving on mile-long oil trains. These derailments and explosions set a bar we can use to measure the new oil train standards announced today by the US and Canadian governments.

Would the new rules have prevented any of the 2015 accidents and, ultimately, will they reduce the threat of oil train catastrophes like the 2013 Lac Megantic, Quebec, explosion that killed 47 people? The answer is no, and the reason is speed: the regulations move too slow and the trains continue to move too fast.

The rules announced at a joint press conference today by US and Canadian officials arrive decades late and with the sticky fingerprints of the oil and rail industry all over them. The administration has slowed down and narrowed the scope of the rules so the most dangerous tank cars stay on the rails for at least two and a half years. Other unsafe tank cars have five or seven years before they must meet new higher standards.

Not that the new standards will help much: All four 2015 accidents involved CPC-1232 cars, the newer tank cars that are supposedly safer than the dangerous DOT-111s. But to be clear, neither the upgraded cars or new cars built to the new standard will prevent an explosion if the train is moving at normal speeds.

So we can begin to look for new and upgraded cars (like the ones that exploded in recent months) in the years to come, but those living along the tracks can still expect to see the worst cars continue to roll by their homes for a very long time. The administration effectively allows rail companies to keep antiquated tank cars on the rails in trains with fewer than 35 crude oil tank cars (or 20 in a row.) That means oil trains hauling up to a million gallons of explosive crude oil in the most dangerous tank cars will keep rolling through a downtown near you FOREVER.

The administration trumpets new electronically controlled pneumatic brakes for oil trains. While it’s good news that oil and rail companies will use state-of-the-art technology, the administration is giving them until 2021 to install the new better brakes. That’s six years too long to require what should be a basic minimum safety requirement.

And while these upgrades to the tank car fleet creep slowly into place, the trains will continue flying down the tracks at reckless speeds. The new rule allows oil trains to travel at more than twice the rated “puncture velocity” of even the new tank cars that they will (in some cases) eventually require. That means that oil trains carrying three million gallons of explosive crude will continue to travel at 50 mph across North America, except in a small number of “high threat” urban areas where they must go 40. The new speed limits offer little comfort because three of the four of the explosive accidents in 2015 occurred at speeds below 35 mph. (The accident in Gogama, ON, occurred at 43 mph, just three mph over the “high-priority” speed limit.) The Galena, Illinois, derailment occurred at only 23 mph, proving that the speed limits in the rule are inadequate to protect anyone.

In the final insult to injury, the administration walked too quickly away from notification standards in an earlier draft of the rule, leaving citizens and emergency responders in the dark about where these trains are running and when.

The Obama Administration took its time developing new rules for hazardous materials on trains that run through the heart of America: they looked at the threat of exploding oil trains, but heavy industry lobbying made them flinch. The administration failed to learn the lessons of Lac Megantic or the four explosive oil train accidents we’ve seen so far in 2015 alone. They have given public safety the cold shoulder, instead embracing the oil and rail industry lobbyists peddling this dangerous cargo.

We were fortunate that none of the 2015 accidents caused fatalities. ForestEthics and our many partners will continue pushing the administration to do a lot better and hope that our luck holds while we stop these dangerous trains from crisscrossing North America.  But it shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Secretary Foxx and President Obama have chosen to roll the dice instead of writing strong rules that protect the 25 million of us living in the blast zone.


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    Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains

    Repost from Bloomberg
    [Editor:  See also:  OregonLive, Minnesota Public Radio, U.S. News & World Report, others….  – RS]

    Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains

    by Jim Snyder, April 17, 2015 10:00 AM PDT

    Trains carrying crude oil will be restricted to a 40 mile-per-hour speed limit in populated areas such as New York under an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of derailments. Railroads voluntarily agreed to that speed limit in so-called High Threat Urban Areas, a designation that covers more than three dozen cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington. The emergency order issued Friday makes that agreement mandatory for all railroads hauling 20 or more tank cars linked together or 35 cars in total that are filled with oil or other flammable liquids. It applies to both older model DOT-111 tank cars and CPC-1232s the industry has been voluntarily building since 2011. “This order is necessary due to the recent occurrence of railroad accidents involving trains transporting petroleum crude oil and ethanol and the increasing reliance on railroads to transport voluminous amounts of those hazardous material in recent years,” the notice states. The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a proposal from the Transportation Department that would require a more durable type of tank car be used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. That rule may be released next month. A draft of that rule calls for tank cars with a thicker steel shell, more robust top fittings and better brakes.

    Quebec Disaster

    Questions about the safety of the growing fleet of trains carrying oil arose after an unattended train broke from its moorings in 2013 and rolled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. This year, oil trains have derailed in Ontario and in West Virginia and Illinois, creating dramatic images of fireballs billowing from rumpled tank cars. The Transportation Department also issued a notice Friday to ensure railroads provide information to investigators after an accident within 90 minutes, including about the volatility of the oil being hauled and the type of rail car in the train. Investigators suspect an accident last month in Galena, Illinois, was related to a broken wheel, and in another step announced today, the Transportation Department recommended tighter standards for replacing wheels than the industry currently observes. Railroads should “provide special attention” to the condition of the tank cars they haul, the order states.

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      “Residue train” tank car blows up at rail car cleaning company, 2 dead in Omaha

      Repost from KETV 7 News, Omaha, NE
      [Editor:  Note that “empty” tank cars are NOT empty, and remain volatile and dangerous.  A “residue train” of 50 or 100 “empties” returning along the same tracks as arriving full trains would seem to DOUBLE the associated risk of derailment and explosion.  … KMTV 3 News features witness comments, including one who described the flames after the boom: “I wouldn’t call it a ball – it looked more like a torch.” (…at minute 1:22 of the video)  – RS]

      At least one TWO dead after explosion at Omaha rail yard

      Apr 14, 2015, 5:31 PM
      OmahaExplosionKETV
      Click to go to video on KETV website

      OMAHA, Neb. — UPDATE: We’re learning more about a fatal explosion in a tank car at an Omaha rail yard Tuesday.

      By Tuesday night, officials confirmed two men who were cleaning the tank car had died in the blast near Second and Hickory streets.

      EARLIER: At least one person was hurt in a possible explosion Tuesday.

      View image on TwitterEmergency crews were sent to the area of Second and Hickory streets around 1:30 p.m. First responders found one man lying on the ground outside the tank car. He was taken in extremely critical condition to CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

      Battalion Chief Tim McCaw said the explosion blew a ladder off the tank car that the workers had been cleaning, trapping a second worker inside. His condition is not known, officials said.

      Fire crews were waiting for toxic limits to subside before entering the tank car; however, at this point, McCaw said it will likely be a recovery operation.

      The identities of the victims have not yet been released.

      GE Capital Rail Services issued the following statement Tuesday:

      “We can confirm there was an accident on a track at a railcar repair shop that we operate in Omaha on Tuesday, April 14. We are not in a position to provide details of what caused the incident at this time as an investigative team is on their way to the site to assess the situation. Right now we are focused on the safety of those in the shop and our thoughts and sympathies are with those who were affected by this unfortunate accident.”
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