Tag Archives: train crash

BENICIA HERALD: Long-awaited reissue cites ‘significant’ environmental impacts; public given 45 days to comment

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Revised, expanded crude-by-rail report released

Long-awaited reissue cites ‘significant’ environmental impacts; public given 45 days to comment

By Nick Sestanovich, September 1, 2015

“Because no reasonable, feasible mitigation measures are available that would, if implemented, reduce the significance below the established threshold, this secondary hazards- and hazardous materials-related impact would be significant and unavoidable.”  – The Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report on Valero’s Crude-by-Rail Project

The long-awaited revision of the draft Valero Crude-by-Rail Project Environmental Impact Report was released Monday, almost a full year after California’s attorney general and others publicly challenged the scope and accuracy of the document.

The new report cited additional negative environmental effects of the project pertaining to air quality, greenhouse gases, protected species and more, expanding its scope to cover impacts for more “uprail” communities — and finding “significant and unavoidable” effects that would result from approval of the project.

The “recirculated” report (RDEIR) is just the latest development in Valero’s three-year battle to bring crude oil deliveries to its Benicia refinery by train. The proposal for a use permit to extend Union Pacific Railroad lines into its property so crude oil could be delivered by rail car, initially submitted to Benicia Planning Commission in late 2012, triggered an uproar over environmental and safety concerns, which prompted the drafting of an Environmental Impact Report.

The document, released in 2014, was criticized by many, including Attorney General Kamala Harris and state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who felt the report’s focus on the 69 miles of rail between Benicia and Roseville didn’t adequately convey the scope of the project’s potentially negative impacts.

The RDEIR addressed these concerns by expanding the range of its focus beyond Roseville to three new routes: the Oregon state line to Roseville; the Nevada state line to northern Roseville; and the Nevada state line to southern Roseville.

In the process, the report uncovered more significant environmental impacts.

The refinery has said it expected 50 to 100 additional rail cars to arrive up to twice a day, brought in at a time of day when there would be little impact on traffic. The trains would carry 70,000 barrels of North American crude each day, replacing shipped barrels from foreign sources, the refinery said in its use permit application.

The DEIR had initially noted that greenhouse gas emissions generated by the Crude-by-Rail Project would be “less than significant.” The RDEIR updated the risk level of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions to “significant and unavoidable,” specifically if trains used the line from Oregon to Roseville, which would travel a round-trip distance of 594 miles per day.

Additionally, the RDEIR found that the project would conflict with Executive Order S-3-05, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The revised report also found that nitrogen-oxide levels would increase in the Yolo-Solano region, among other areas, and that nitrogen emissions in Placer County “would exceed the cumulative 10-pounds-per-day significance threshold.”

Biological resources are another area of concern. According to the report, crude-by-rail trains could have “potential impacts to biological resources along any southern route,” that “could include collision-related injury and mortality to protected wildlife and migratory bird species.”

Finally, the RDEIR said, other hazards exist: If a train were to crash and result in a small oil spill, there would be a 100-percent chance of 100 gallons or more being released. Similarly, should a train crash in a high fire danger area, the risks would be inevitable.

As the report notes, “Because no reasonable, feasible mitigation measures are available that would, if implemented, reduce the significance below the established threshold, this secondary hazards- and hazardous materials-related impact would be significant and unavoidable.”

Conversely, other areas of concern such as noise pollution and earthquakes, were found to have little or no significant impact.

“Valero’s effort to rush through their dangerous project and their long record of constant violations and fines of Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions rules give many of us pause to reflect on the many risks associated with this project,” said Andres Soto, a Benicia resident and member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, a group formed to opposed the Crude-by-Rail Project.

“It is only due to the volume and detail of scope of all of the public comments received on the original Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that Benicia chose to recirculate a seriously flawed DEIR. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and many uprail communities, as well as many Benicians, including BSHC, identified many critical shortcomings with the original DEIR.

“Valero has shown nothing but intransigence and misinformation in the face of this opposition to its flawed proposal, thus we do not expect much to have changed in the RDEIR from the DEIR that would convince us that Valero and Union Pacific Railroad can make this project safe enough for Benicia. The risk of catastrophic explosions along the rail line and in Benicia, and the plan to process dirtier extreme crude oils strip-mined from Canadian tar sands and fracked in the Bakken shale formation is just too dangerous for our safety and our environment.

“We hope that after thoroughly reviewing the RDEIR, our Planning Commission and City Council will have the wisdom to deny this project for the good of Benicia, our neighboring communities and the good of our planet.”

A Valero representative was asked to comment on the newly released report but did not respond by press time Monday.

Copies of the RDEIR are available at Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.; at the Community Development Department at Benicia City Hall, 250 East L St.; and as a PDF download on the city’s website, www.ci.benicia.ca.us.

Public comments on the RDEIR will be accepted by the city until Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. Comments may be submitted in writing to Amy Million, principal planner of the Community Development Department, 250 East L St., Benicia, CA 94510; or they may be given at formal public hearings on the project by Benicia Planning Commission, the first of which will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at City Hall.

Additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments on the RDEIR are scheduled for Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

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    Pennsylvania man in good condition after collision with “empty” oil train

    Repost from Lancaster Online
    [Editor:  I have been asking various oil train experts about the volatility of “empty” crude oil tank cars.  These cars are not truly empty: returning trains of nearly-empty cars are referred to as “residue trains,” and carry the same identifying hazmat placard as when they are full.  Of course, these cars have been known to derail or crash as happened in this report.  I have not been able to find much documentation, but several reports claim that these cars can explode, sending shrapnel and causing major (and presumably relatively short-lived) fires.  Rail and oil insurers are certain to have calculated risk assessments on these cars.  But I have no record of this risk being addressed in permitting reviews.  What additional safety risk is added to a crude-by-rail project being considered for permitting in a city like Benicia?  Please contact me if you have further information, send to rogrmail at BeniciaIndependent dot com.  – RS]

    Marietta man, 85, in good condition after collision with oil train

    By Tom Knapp, Apr 7, 2015
    crash 032715
    The wreckage of a pickup truck is shown after a collision March 27 with a northbound oil train. BRIAN LEID

    An 85-year-old man is recovering after his pickup truck was struck by an empty oil train March 27 in Bainbridge.

    Clark “Red” Arnold, of Marietta, was in critical condition as recently as Friday, but was listed in good condition Tuesday, a spokeswoman at Penn State Hershey Medical Center said.

    Arnold was trapped in the truck after he apparently stopped his vehicle in the train’s path.

    “He just didn’t hear the train,” Conoy Township supervisor Stephen Mohr said Friday afternoon.

    “He and the train got to the intersection at about the same time. When he did see the train, he panicked and stopped on the tracks.”

    Mohr, who witnessed the crash, said he had been speaking to Arnold just moments before the accident at the nearby Koser Park Boat launch area.

    “You’re helpless,” he said. “I knew it was going to happen before it happened, but there’s nothing you can do.”

    The crash occurred at the Race Street crossing at North Front Street.

    Emergency crews were called to the scene at 1:29 p.m.

    The Norfolk Southern oil train was heading north toward Harrisburg and was not carrying oil at the time of the crash, according to police.

    Local, state and federal officials have expressed concerns about explosive Bakken crude oil being transported by train after several recent derailments.

    Oil trains, often pulling more than 100 tanker cars, roll through about 35 miles of Lancaster County along the Susquehanna River up to 16 times a week.

    Arnold was freed from his truck and taken to Hershey Medical Center for treatment, according to Lt. Stephen Englert of Susquehanna Regional Police.

    “It was pretty serious,” Mohr said. “He took a beating. … They had to take the vehicle apart to free him.”

    Mohr said Arnold was “conscious and talking to us” while rescue workers freed him from the truck.

    There are no crossgates or warning lights at the intersection, Mohr noted.

    Witnesses at the scene stated they heard the Norfolk Southern train horn well before the train collided with the vehicle, according to the Susquehanna Regional Police report.

    Randy Gockley, director of the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency, said the train did not derail, and responders on the scene reported no leakage from the train.

    The Race Street intersection is the entrance to Bainbridge American Legion Park, which serves as the trailhead for the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, as well as the location of the Bainbridge Inn.

    Englert said the collision does not make him any more concerned about oil trains traveling through Conoy.

    Capt. Leonard Crater of Bainbridge Fire Department said the the victim apparently “got a little too close to the tracks, and was unaware of the train coming.”

    Onlookers “didn’t think he was trying to beat the train,” Crater said.

    He was glad train cars were empty so “there was no kind of worry about any kind of leak or explosions or anything like that.”

    The Bainbridge fire captain said nearly 20 firefighters from his department and nearby units responded, along with police.

    Penny Rhan of 114 Race St., some 50 yards from the crash, heard a boom but didn’t initially realize it had been a train accident.

    Another Race Street resident, Wayne Brooks, said “it’s been a long time since we’ve had an accident there.”

    Staff writers David O’Connor and Ryan Robinson contributed to this report.
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      Rail agency’s new head draws kudos, despite string of crashes

      Repost from The Boston Globe

      Rail agency’s new head draws kudos, despite string of crashes

      By Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, March 22, 2015
      Smoke and flames erupted from railroad tank cars loaded with crude oil that derailed March 5 near Galena, Ill.
      Smoke and flames erupted from railroad tank cars loaded with crude oil that derailed March 5 near Galena, Ill. Mike Burley / Telegraph Herald via Associated Press

      WASHINGTON — After a string of deadly train crashes, a pair of angry US senators stood in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal four months ago to denounce the Federal Railroad Administration as a ‘‘lawless agency, a rogue agency.’’

      They said it was too cozy with the railroads it regulates and more interested in ‘‘cutting corners’’ for them than protecting the public.

      In the past two months, photos of rail cars strewn akimbo beside tracks have rivaled mountains of snow in Boston for play in newspapers and on television.

      But the reaction by Congress to the railroad oversight agency’s performance has been extremely positive recently.

      Accolades were directed at its acting head, Sarah Feinberg, even though her two-month tenure in the job has coincided with an astonishing number of high-profile train wrecks:

      • Feb. 3: Six people were killed when a commuter train hit an SUV at a grade crossing in Valhalla, N.Y.
      • Feb. 4: Fourteen tank cars carrying ethanol jumped the tracks north of Dubuque, Iowa, and three burst into flames.
      • Feb. 16: Twenty-eight tank cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in West Virginia.
      • Feb. 24: A commuter train derailed in Oxnard, Calif., after hitting a tractor-trailer at a grade crossing.
      • March 5: Twenty-one tank cars derailed and leaked crude oil within yards of a tributary of the Mississippi River in Illinois.
      • March 9: The engine and baggage car of an Amtrak train derailed after hitting a tractor-trailer at a grade crossing in North Carolina.

      At first glance, Feinberg seems an unlikely choice to replace Joseph Szabo, the career railroad man who resigned after five years in the job. She is 37, a former White House operative, onetime spokeswoman for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and, most recently, chief of staff to the US Department of Transportation secretary.

      Nothing on her résumé says ‘‘railroad.’’

      ‘‘Sometimes it’s good to have an outside person,’’ said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who got a call from Feinberg immediately after the Feb. 3 crash in Valhalla. ‘‘She’s smart, she’s a quick study, she knows how to bring people together. I think she’s the right person for the job.’’

      ‘‘Whether she’s had a lifetime experience riding the rails or working on the rails, she knows how to get to the crux of things and move things forward,’’ said Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who arrived at the Feb. 16 crash shortly before Feinberg did. ‘‘I was very impressed.’’

      Schumer calls Feinberg ‘‘hard-nosed’’ and says she isn’t worried if she ruffles some in an industry grown accustomed to a more languid pace of change.

      After the Valhalla crash, Feinberg pulled together a team to come up with a better way to address an issue that kills hundreds of people at grade crossings each year.

      ‘‘We’re at a point where about 95 percent of grade-crossing incidents are due to driver or pedestrian error,’’ Feinberg said. ‘‘While I don’t blame the victims, this is a good example of a problem that needs some new thinking.’’

      A month later, she called on local law enforcement to show a greater presence at grade crossings and ticket drivers who try to beat the warning lights. Next, the railroad agency says it plans ‘‘to employ smarter uses of technology, increase public awareness of grade crossing safety, and improve signage.’’

      ‘‘When it comes to the rail industry, that is lightning fast, and it’s really impressive,’’ said a congressional aide who focuses on transportation.

      Grade-crossing deaths pale in comparison to the potential catastrophe that Feinberg says keeps her awake at night. ‘‘We’re transporting a highly flammable and volatile crude from the middle of the country, more than 1,000 miles on average, to refineries,’’ she said.

      All of the recent crude-oil train derailments happened miles from the nearest town. But little more than a year ago, a CSX train with six crude-oil tank cars derailed on a river bridge in the middle of Philadelphia. And an oil-fueled fireball after a derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013 left 47 people dead.

      The number of tank-car trains has expanded exponentially since the start of a production boom centered in North Dakota. Seven years ago, 9,500 tank cars of Bakken crude traveled by railroad. Last year, the number was 493,126. In 2013, an additional 290,000 cars transported ethanol.

      Mindful of the potential for disaster, the White House tasked the Office of Management and Budget and the Transportation Department with figuring out how to safely transport the oil. At DOT, that fell to Feinberg, who had just signed on as chief of staff to Secretary Anthony Foxx.

      ‘‘We found her to be very hands-on, firm but fair, and ready to work with all stakeholders in making fact-based decisions,’’ said Ed Greenberg of the Association of American Railroads. ‘‘She is someone who has quickly recognized the challenges in moving crude oil by rail. And the freight rail industry is ready to work with her” in her new role at the Federal Railroad Administration, he said.

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        Another derailment: Fifty hurt when Southern California commuter train slams into truck

        Repost from Reuters
        [Editor: Significant quote: “…in a move that may have helped avert a more catastrophic accident, the train used an emergency braking system moments before impact, and the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the crash….”  It’s a good thing that safety improvements in commuter cars are well ahead of those for hazmat tank cars.  – RS]

        Fifty hurt when Southern California commuter train slams into truck

        By Michael Fleeman, OXNARD, Calif. Tue Feb 24, 2015 5:40pm EST
        An aerial view shows the scene of a double-decker Metrolink train derailment in Oxnard, California February 24, 2015.   REUTERS-Lucy Nicholson
        An aerial view shows the scene of a double-decker Metrolink train derailment in Oxnard, California February 24, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

        (Reuters) – A Los Angeles-bound commuter train slammed into a produce truck apparently stuck on the tracks in a Southern California city before dawn on Tuesday, injuring 50 people in a fiery crash, some of them critically.

        The truck driver, who was not hurt, left the scene of the destruction in Oxnard on foot and was found walking and disoriented one or two miles away, Assistant Police Chief Jason Benitez said.

        Benitez said the 54-year-old driver from Arizona was not arrested but investigators were trying to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing in the 5:45 a.m. PST (8:45 a.m EST) wreck, which overturned three double-decker Metrolink rail cars. Two others derailed but remained upright.

        While no-one was killed, the force of the impact ripped the truck apart and left burned-out chunks and twisted wreckage still smoldering hours later.

        Benitez said it appeared that the truck driver had taken a wrong turn in the pre-dawn darkness and ended up on the tracks, where the rig became stuck as the train approached at 79 miles per hour.

        But in a move that may have helped avert a more catastrophic accident, the train used an emergency braking system moments before impact, and the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the crash, Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said.

        “I think we can safely say that the technology worked. It definitely minimized the impact. It would have been a very serious collision, it would have been much worse without it,” Lustgarten said.

        The crash came three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck a car at a crossing outside New York City and derailed in a fiery accident that killed six people.

        TRAIN OPERATOR CRITICAL

        Ventura County Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll said 50 people were hurt in the Oxnard incident, 28 of whom were transported to hospitals.

        Among the most seriously injured was the train’s operator, who was in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Ventura County Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Sheila Murphy said.

        The operator, who has not been publicly identified, suffered extensive chest injuries affecting his heart and lungs but was able to communicate with doctors, Murphy said.

        National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt said investigators would examine the train’s recorders and seek to determine if crossing arms and bells were functioning properly.

        “We are concerned with grade crossing accidents. We intend to use this accident and others to learn from it so that we can keep it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.

        The incident took place where the Metrolink tracks cross busy Rice Avenue in Oxnard, a street used by a steady stream of big rigs and farm trucks and lined with warehouses and farmland.

        “It is a very dangerous crossing,” said Rafael Lemus, who works down the street from the crash site. “The lights come on too late before the trains come. It is not safe.”

        A Ventura County Medical Center spokeswoman said the hospital had received nine victims, three of whom were listed in critical condition.

        Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center received six patients with minor injuries such as back, leg or shoulder pain, said spokeswoman Kris Carraway. St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in nearby Camarillo was treating two patients for minor injuries, a spokeswoman said.

        The wreck triggered major delays to Metrolink lines across Ventura County, forcing commuters onto buses. Oxnard is an affluent coastal city of some 200,000 about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

        In 2008, a crowded Metrolink commuter train plowed into a Union Pacific locomotive in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people and injuring 135 in an accident officials blamed on the commuter train engineer’s failure to stop at a red light.

        In 2005 a Metrolink train struck a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, killing 11 people and injuring 180.

        (Reporting by Michael Fleeman in Oxnard, Laila Kearney, Barbara Goldberg and James Dalgleish in New York, Rory Carroll in San Francisco, Eric Johnson in Seattle and Eric Kelsey and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Bill Trott and James Dalgleish)
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