Tag Archives: Transport Canada

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

Repost from Desmogblog
[Editor: See also this nicely-bulleted summary of the TSB Report: Lac-Mégantic derailment: Anatomy of a disaster, by Kim Mackrael, The Globe and Mail.  – RS]

Report Reveals Cost Cutting Measures At Heart Of Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster

2014-08-19, by Justin Mikulka

Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final report on the July 6th, 2013 train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The report produced a strong reaction from Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s Climate and Energy Campaign coordinator.

This report is a searing indictment of Transport Canada’s failure to protect the public from a company that they knew was cutting corners on safety despite the fact that it was carrying increasing amounts of hazardous cargo. This lax approach to safety has allowed the unsafe transport of oil by rail to continue to grow even after the Lac Megantic disaster. It is time for the federal government to finally put community safety ahead of oil and rail company profits or we will see more tragedies, Stewart said.”

Throughout the report there is ample evidence to support Stewart’s position and plenty to show why the people of Lac-Megantic want the CEO of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), the rail company responsible for the accident, held accountable in place of the engineer and other low level employees currently facing charges.

At the press conference for the release of the report the TSB representatives often noted that they had found 18 factors that contributed to the actual crash and they were not willing to assign blame to anyone, claiming that wasn’t their role.

But several critical factors stand out and they are the result of MMA putting profits ahead of safety and Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian regulators responsible for overseeing rail safety, failing to do its job.

Engine Fire

The issue that set the whole chain of events into motion on July 6th was an engine fire in the unattended locomotive. As usual the engineer had left the train unattended with one locomotive running while shutting off the others. This locomotive supplied power to the air braking system. The locomotive caught on fire, the fire department was called and they put out the fire and shut off the locomotive in the process.

Today’s TSB report notes that the fire was due to an improper repair of a cam bearing. Instead of doing a costly replacement, the cam bearing was repaired with epoxy (polymeric material).  As the report states:

This temporary repair had been performed using a polymeric material, which did not have the strength and durability required for this use.

Braking Failure

Once the locomotive was shut down due to the fire, it could no longer power the air brake system.

As previously reported on DeSmogBlog, this type of system has been described as “19th century technology” by a rail safety expert at the Federal Railroad Administration but as a whole the rail industry has not upgraded to newer technologies because of the costs involved.

Without power to the air braking system, the braking system lost pressure over time and the train began to roll towards Lac-Megantic.

This wouldn’t have been an issue if the proper number of handbrakes had been applied. But the engineer had not applied enough handbrakes because he had not performed the hand brake effectiveness test properly and had left the locomotive air brakes on while conducting the test. The report notes the lack of training and oversight for that particular locomotive engineer (LE).

Furthermore, the LE was never tested on the procedures for performing a hand brake effectiveness test, nor did the company’s Operational Tests and Inspections (OTIS) Program confirm that hand brake effectiveness tests were being conducted correctly.

The report also notes that when MMA employees were tested for safety knowledge, they could take the tests home.

Requalification typically consisted of 1 day to complete the exam, and did not always involve classroom training. On many occasions, employees would take the exam home for completion.

However, in this case, there were not even questions on the test on this critical subject.

They did not have questions on the hand brake effectiveness test, the conditions requiring application of more than the minimum number of hand brakes, nor the stipulation that air brakes cannot be relied upon to prevent an undesired movement.

And they found this had been the situation since before the oil trains starting running.

Since 2009, no employee had been tested on CROR 112(b), which targeted the hand brake effectiveness test. In 2012, U.S. employees had been tested twice on that rule; both tests had resulted in a “Failure”.

Single Operator Risks

The report goes into detail about how MMA came to be operating oil trains with only one crew member. And while ultimately the regulators failed, some did raise flags about this. When MMA initially sought to move to single person train operations (SPTO) from the standard two person crew, it was noted that there were significant issues with their operations.

In July 2009, TC expressed a number of concerns that centred on deficiencies in MMA operations, including lack of consultation with employees in doing risk assessments, problems managing equipment, problems with remote-control operations, issues with rules compliance, issues with fatigue management, and a lack of investment in infrastructure maintenance.

Additionally the report notes that Transport Canada’s Quebec office expressed specific concerns in 2010.

TC Quebec Region reiterated its concern about MMA’s suitability as an SPTO candidate.

And yet despite the concerns and MMA’s poor track record, in 2012 they were allowed to start running single crew trains despite TC Quebec still expressing concern.

In February 2012, TC met with MMA and the RAC. TC advised MMA that TC did not approve SPTO. MMA only needed to comply with all applicable rules and regulations. TC Quebec Region remained concerned about the safety of SPTO on MMA.

Unsurprisingly, the additional training for employees who would be operating trains on their own was almost non-existent. And it was focused on the fact that for safety purposes, engineers were allowed to stop the trains and take naps.

The actual SPTO training for several LEs, including the accident LE, consisted of a short briefing in a manager’s office on the need to report to the RTC every 30 minutes, on the allowance for power naps, and on the need to bring the train to a stop to write clearances.

This report is a clear indictment of a system that allows for corporate profit over public safety. However, what also is clear from today’s press conference and from the regulatory situation in the United States is that nothing of significance has changed regarding the movement of oil by rail in the US and Canada.

A poorly maintained locomotive can still be left running and unattended. There still is no formal regulation on how many hand brakes need to be applied to secure a train.

Single person crews are still allowed and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the company moving the most oil-by-rail in the U.S., is working to implement this as a practice despite the objections of the employees.

In short, the corporate profit before public safety approach is still standard operating procedure. And the oil trains are expected to return to the tracks through Lac-Megantic within a year.

Train tracks where the ill-fated train was parked. (c) Justin Mikulka.

Image Credit: Transportation Safety Board via flickr.

Canada may require new electronically controlled brakes (and other measures) for oil trains … by 2020

Repost from the Globe and Mail, Ottawa, Canada
[Editor: Significant quote: “Electronically controlled air brakes are favoured by some rail-safety advocates because they allow an engineer to apply the brakes on all of a train’s cars at the same time – regardless of how close they are to the locomotive.  In contrast, traditional air brakes rely on a signal that begins from the locomotive and moves car by car toward the back of the train. On longer unit trains such as those typically used to haul crude oil, rail cars near the back of the train won’t receive the signal as quickly, increasing the risk of a derailment when the brakes are applied suddenly.”  – RS]

Putting the brakes on train derailment

By Kim Mackrael, Aug. 15 2014

The federal government is mulling a plan to require new electronically controlled air brakes for rail cars that haul dangerous goods such as crude oil and ethanol after a series of explosive oil-train derailments in Canada and the United States.

A consultation document sent to the railway transportation industry last month laid out Transport Canada’s proposal for a new class of tank car, including the new air brake system and full head shields to prevent punctures. Older-model DOT-111 tank cars have been heavily criticized as prone to puncture and corrosion.

Electronically controlled air brakes are favoured by some rail-safety advocates because they allow an engineer to apply the brakes on all of a train’s cars at the same time – regardless of how close they are to the locomotive.

In contrast, traditional air brakes rely on a signal that begins from the locomotive and moves car by car toward the back of the train. On longer unit trains such as those typically used to haul crude oil, rail cars near the back of the train won’t receive the signal as quickly, increasing the risk of a derailment when the brakes are applied suddenly.

Don Ross, who led the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into last year’s rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., said the agency generally supports the use of the electronically controlled brakes because they can improve rail safety, particularly on longer trains. “It’s encouraging, now, that they’ve got out for discussion a very good standard,” Mr. Ross said in a recent interview.

“We would be very happy to see the industry adopt that.”

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told The Globe and Mail on Friday that she had already begun consultations on the matter, but has so far heard that the industry does not believe electronically controlled air brakes are necessary. “The ones that I’ve been speaking to say it’s too difficult to implement in the North American market,” Ms. Raitt said, adding, “That’s the consultation so far, but we’re still gathering information right now.”

One concern with electronically controlled brakes is that the system would need to be installed on all of a train’s cars for it to function properly, a factor that would limit railways’ flexibility in assembling longer or mixed trains.

In addition to the new air brake system, the proposed new standard includes full head shields to prevent puncture, improved top-fitting protection for the pressure release valve, mandatory thermal jackets to prevent overheating, and new standards for bottom outlet valves to prevent leaks during an accident.

The standard goes beyond requirements announced in April for a three-year phaseout or retrofit of pre-2011 tank cars used to haul crude oil. Those rules included half-head shields, top-fitting protection and thicker steel.

The new proposal would give industry until May, 2020, to start using the next-generation cars to move the most dangerous flammable liquids, classified as Packing Group 1. New or retrofitted cars would be required for moderately dangerous flammable liquids by May, 2022, and for all flammable liquids by May, 2025.

A spokesperson for Canadian Pacific said on Friday that the company is evaluating Transport Canada’s proposal, but did not comment on any specific aspect of the proposed change. Canadian National said it is reviewing the proposal and would provide comments to the regulator as part of the consultation process.

Last month, U.S. regulators issued three possible requirements for next-generation DOT-111 tank cars.

The toughest standards proposed by the U.S. are similar to the Transport Canada proposal and include electronically controlled air brakes.

Canada Announces Rules for Transporting Dangerous Goods by Rail

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

New Measures Mandate Tank Cars That Carry Crude Oil to Be Built with Thicker Steel Walls

By David George-Cosh, June 27, 2014

TORONTO—Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced new rules Friday aimed at bolstering safety measures for transporting dangerous goods, such as crude oil, over the country’s railway networks.

The new measures include updating safety-reporting requirements for rail companies operating in Canada, mandating tank cars that carry volatile crude be built with thicker steel walls, and improving data-reporting requirements for railways.

Canadian and U.S. regulators have urged the rail industry to improve safety measures after several recent accidents involving trains carrying crude, including last year’s derailment of a crude-carrying train in rural Quebec in July, which killed 47 people.

“Our government is committed to railway safety and the safe movement of dangerous goods,” Ms. Raitt said in a statement. “The upcoming regulations will further strengthen safety in Canada’s already robust transportation system.”

A spokesman for Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.  said the company was reviewing the announcement and that it has a “strong” set of existing safety measures it discloses to the federal government.

Jim Feeny, a spokesman from Canadian National Railway Co. said that its position on safety disclosure “largely aligns” with the federal government’s proposals, but it was also reviewing the announced measures.

The new rules announced Friday will include amendments to legislation to require DOT-111 tank cars to abide by new standards such as thicker steel walls and better top protection to reduce spills in a derailment.

The ministry will also require the country’s short-line railroads to upgrade their safety-management disclosure by providing Transport Canada with the same reports on safety risks that the country’s major rails provide. The proposal affects 35 railways in Canada, Transport Canada said.

Transport Canada is also requesting that Canada-based railroads provide measurable data such as maintenance and repair records to the federal government that could better address safety risks before they occur.

Friday’s measures follow a series of steps Ms. Raitt announced in April to improve rail transport in response to recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada after its investigation of last year’s Lac-Mégantic tragedy.

The federal government also ordered older DOT-111 tank cars to be phased out or retrofitted in three years, and added a requirement that all crude oil shipments include emergency response plans.

It is unclear how many DOT-111 cars operate in Canada, but the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association says that there are 228,000 general-purpose tank cars in service in the U.S. known as DOT-111s.

The U.S. has adopted tougher classification standards for shipping crude-by-rail that but hasn’t curbed the use of older DOT-111 tank cars on the country’s tracks despite last year’s deadly accident in Quebec and more recently, a fiery derailment in Lynchberg, Va.

Refiners’ lobby says DOT-111 is “fine” for shipping Bakken crude

Repost from Railway Age

Refiners’ lobby says DOT-111 is “fine” for shipping Bakken crude

Written by  David Thomas, Contributing Editor  | May 19, 2014

Operators of the U.S. fleet of DOT-111 tank cars are fighting the emerging consensus that the cars and their contents are the key culprits in the succession of oil train conflagrations that started last July 6 at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

Keeping trains on the tracks should be the priority in the reform of crude-by-rail, said the Washington-based policy advocate for the petroleum refiners that own much of the North American tank car fleet.

Too much focus is on the presumed weaknesses of the DOT-111 general-purpose tank car and on the particular properties of crude oil fracked from Bakken shale, said the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) in a May 14 submission to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Both are safe for haulage, the refiners argue in a contrarian view that rubs against the otherwise unanimous opinion of accident investigators, regulators, and railroaders that the DOT-111 and Bakken oil are an unacceptably risky pairing.

In an interview with Railway Age May 16, AFPM president Charles Drevna asked: “Can we have an intellectually honest discussion about mechanical and track integrity on the rails? You shouldn’t blame the cargo for an accident.”

At the same time, Canada’s oil shippers are resisting any requirement that they cover their consignments with public liability insurance. Legal and financial responsibility for the consequences of rail accidents should remain entirely with railroads and railroad insurers, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Fuels Association argued in a joint submission to a Transport Canada review arising from the Lac-Megantic accident.

Both Canadian Class I railroads and the Railway Association of Canada submitted that shippers should indeed insure their cargos against loss of life and environmental damages. Furthermore, CN and CP want the right to refuse consignments they judge to be too dangerous. Currently, as common carriers, railroads in both the U.S. and Canada are obliged to haul any legal cargo in authorized containers.

Thus, as the anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic catastrophe approaches, what had seemed to be a public consensus that the ultra-light Bakken crude is inherently too volatile for DOT-111 carriage is fracturing into open dispute between oil shippers and rail carriers.

“As the standards are today for flammable liquids, Bakken crude fits right in, and the DOT-111 cars should be fine,” Drevna said.

While the AFPM supports regulatory adoption of the 2011 standard proposed by a cross-industry committee, Drevna said he doubts that Canada’s phase-out of DOT-111s can be accomplished within the three-year timeline. Any additional new tank car specification beyond the industry-sponsored CPC-1232 standard should be delayed until comprehensive derailment data has been collected and analyzed.

No practical tank car would have survived the 64-mph derailment of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic’s runaway at Lac-Mégantic, said Frits Wybenga of Dangerous Goods Transport Consulting, who on behalf of AFPM analyzed a survey of Bakken oil samples by organization members. “You can’t design-out a tank car rupturing in those circumstances. You can make them heavier and heavier and make a tank car that would withstand those forces, but you wouldn’t be able to carry much crude oil in it.”

Products considerably more hazardous are routinely and legally transported in DOT-111 cars and Bakken crude should continue to be classified and transported like any other Class 3 flammable liquid under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), said the AFPM.

“Bakken crude oil currently is transported in compliance with the HMR as a Class 3 Flammable Liquid in either Packing Group I, II, or III. In conclusion, there is no identifiable basis for regulating Bakken crude differently than other flammable liquids regulated by the DOT Hazardous Materials Regulations,” says the AFPM submission to DOT.

The AFPM report included an assessment of routine assays performed by its own members in the course of loading and receiving Bakken crude. With just one exceptionally high concentration of hydrogen sulfide among the 1,400 samples drawn between loading terminals and destination refineries, the AFPM concludes that Bakken crude falls comfortably within Class 3 Flammable Liquid specifications for carriage in DOT-111 cars. Furthermore, the DOT-111 was a safe vessel for any flavor of crude oil—providing railroads keep the cars on the tracks.

“Bakken crude oil was found to be well within the limits for what is acceptable for transportation as a flammable liquid,” the AFPM reported. “Bakken crude oil was compared with other light crude oils and determined to be within the norm in the case of light hydrocarbon content, including dissolved flammable gases. Measured tank car pressures show that even the older DOT-111s authorized to transport Bakken crude oil are built with a wide margin of safety relative to the pressures that rail tanks may experience when transporting Bakken crude oil.”

The report relies substantially on the “Reid Vapor Pressure” test, which was abandoned in 1990 for U.S. hazmat classification in favor of the dual criteria of whether a material is liquid or gas at 20°C (68°F) or, alternatively, has a vapor pressure of more than 300 kPa (43.5 psia) at 50°C (122°F). The Reid test remains a common industry measure of vapor pressure at 100°F (38°C) and transposes accurately to the HMR-approved pressure scale, says the AFPM.

“AFPM and its members appreciate the concerns raised in relation to rail transport of Bakken crude oil and stand ready to work cooperatively with DOT and other governmental organizations to ensure the safe transportation of Bakken crude oil,” the report says. “This survey shows that Bakken crude oil does not pose risks that are significantly different than other crude oils and other flammable liquids authorized for transportation as flammable liquids.”