Philadelphia City Council on Thursday urged the federal government to tighten regulations on trains carrying crude oil, in the aftermath of a series of fiery derailments.
City Council unanimously approved a resolution that calls on Washington to approve new rules for railcars. It also calls for the city to plan emergency-response workshops for communities along oil-train routes.
Philadelphia-area oil refineries have become increasingly dependent upon rail shipments of domestic crude oil, which has displaced more expensive imported oil delivered by ships.
Two major freight carriers, CSX and Norfolk Southern, now move from 45 to 80 oil trains through Philadelphia each week, according to city officials.
The U.S. Department of Transportation sets rules governing railroad safety and railcar standards, so Council’s action is symbolic.
“With the increase of train traffic in Philadelphia, we are flirting with disaster,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, the resolution’s sponsor.
Environmental groups including Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and PennEnvironment have lobbied Johnson’s office to take action since a CSX oil train last year derailed on a bridge near Center City. The accident caused no leaks, but the sight of oil cars tilted over the Schuylkill drew much attention to the issue.
Last month’s accident in West Virginia – one of five in recent weeks – has inspired a surge in calls for action.
The Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last year issued several emergency orders and advisories to address safety issues. The government is also considering new rules to phase out old tank car designs, though several of the most recent explosive derailments involved newer-model tank cars.
Day after derailment, cleanup and restoration begin
By Rusty Marks, Staff writer, Tuesday, February 17, 2015
MOUNT CARBON — Cleanup crews began removing the hulks of derailed and burned-out railroad tank cars Tuesday evening, and residents began to get water and electricity back, after a train carrying crude oil derailed, caught fire and exploded in western Fayette County on Monday.
Emergency shelters, set up after hundreds of residents were evacuated from the area, were closed Tuesday evening after CSX, the company whose train derailed, provided hotel rooms for them.
The CSX train, hauling 107 tank car loads of Bakken Shale crude oil from North Dakota to a transportation terminal in Yorktown, Virginia, derailed in Adena Village near Mount Carbon and Deepwater about 1:30 p.m. Monday, setting one house ablaze and causing numerous tank cars to burn and explode. The train also included two cars of sand, which were used as buffers at either end of the train, CSX officials said.
At a briefing Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said officials expected hundreds of residents without electricity to have service restored sometime Tuesday evening.
State officials said fewer than 800 people were affected by outages related to lines damaged by the initial fire. They also said they believed between 100 and 125 residents were evacuated or displaced, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency put that number at 2,400 in its daily report.
Local officials said about 100 people took refuge at emergency shelters Monday night at Valley High School in Smithers and the Armstrong Volunteer Fire Department.
Most people who had been staying at the shelters moved out once CSX offered hotel rooms, and others decided to stay with friends or relatives following the fire.
Billy Dunfee was the last to leave the shelter at Valley High School, having spent the night Monday. “They set us up on cots in the back gyms,” he said.
But the school didn’t have water Monday night, so Dunfee decided Tuesday morning to either stay with relatives or take CSX up on it’s offer for a hotel room. Dunfee wasn’t sure how long it would be before he would be allowed to return to his home.
Smithers police and volunteer firefighters from the area set up a makeshift water distribution center at Valley High School late Monday, and handed out water throughout the day Tuesday.
Smithers Police Chief Gerald Procter said the owner of J&J Trucking in nearby Canvas had a tractor-trailer filled with pallets of water, and took it upon himself to bring the truck to Smithers.
Volunteers had passed out water to about 60 cars by noon, with some drivers picking up water for friends and family members.
“I already came out and picked up water for six households before,” said Cannelton resident Jay Pauley. “I’m getting water for five more. There’s about 20 houses in the section where I live.”
CSX spokesman Gary Sease said the railroad was working with the Red Cross and other relief organizations to help those who had to leave their homes because of the train derailment.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s acting administrator, former Charleston resident Sarah Feinberg, and chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, were among several investigators from the FRA and the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration who were on the scene Tuesday.
“Once the site is secured, officials will begin the investigation into the cause of the derailment,” U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling said Tuesday morning.
Officials at the West Virginia American Water treatment plant in Montgomery, downriver on the Kanawha-Fayette county line, were told to shut down their water intake as a precaution. The intakes were reopened Tuesday afternoon, after three rounds of testing by the company, with the help of the West Virginia National Guard, showed “non-detectable levels” of the components of crude oil in the Kanawha River.
The approximately 2,000 customers of West Virginia American Water’s Montgomery system — including people in Montgomery, Smithers, Cannelton, London, Handley and Hughes Creek — were told to boil their water before using it. Bottled water stations were being set up at the Montgomery Town Hall and at Valley High School.
Kelley Gillenwater, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that the fires were keeping DEP officials from being able to fully examine the site of the derailment to determine what sort of containment and cleanup is going to be needed.
Full details of water sampling being done by the state were not immediately available, but Gillenwater said that so far the results had come back “non-detect.” She said that despite initial reports, none of the train cars that derailed actually ended up in the Kanawha River.
Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Fayette and Kanawha counties after the derailment. “It appears things are starting to come back to normal,” the governor said at Tuesday’s news conference.
Randy Cheetham, a regional vice-president with CSX, said at the same press conference that the section of track where the derailment occurred had last been inspected on Friday. He said CSX and transportation officials have not yet determined the cause of the wreck.
Cheetham said the derailment started with the third car behind two locomotives pulling the train, and continued to the 28th car. Work crews were able to pull most of the cars away from the site of the fire.
An engineer and conductor on the train were not hurt, Cheetham said. He said the tank cars set fire to one home at the site, and the homeowner was treated for smoke inhalation — the only injury reported related to the derailment.
The West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery canceled classes for the rest of the week. In a statement, WVU Tech officials said water service on campus isn’t expected to be restored for another two or three days, and the school’s residence halls would close at 5 p.m. Tuesday. WVU Tech students will be temporarily housed at the University of Charleston’s residence halls at the former Mountain State University in Beckley, and at the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Beckley if necessary.
In April 2014, a train carrying crude oil on the same North Dakota-Virginia route derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia — one of several incidents involving oil-carrying rail cars in recent months that have brought increased scrutiny to the transport of oil via rail.
In October, officials with the state Department of Homeland Security blacked out details about the frequency of CSX oil train shipments, the amounts of oil transported and the routes the trains took through West Virginia from a Charleston Gazette Freedom of Information Act request for data on Bakken crude oil shipments through the state, citing security concerns and saying some of the information was proprietary to CSX.
Asked Tuesday whether the state would reconsider that stance in light of Monday’s derailment, Tomblin said there were probably still security concerns over releasing the information. However, he said state officials would take another look at the question.
Amtrak’s thrice-weekly Cardinal service, which runs through Fayette County on its way between Chicago and New York City, listed today’s run as canceled on the Amtrak website. Friday’s run is listed as “sold out,” which the service often does to block ticket sales on annulled runs. Tickets are being sold online for Sunday’s run.
Staff writers Ken Ward Jr., Erin Beck and Phil Kabler contributed to this report.
Cuomo: Feds need to address crude-oil shipments by rail
By Leonard Sparks, Dec. 1, 2014
ALBANY – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government to tighten rules governing crude-oil shipments by rail as the state released a report Monday documenting actions to protect Hudson River communities from derailment-related spills and explosions.
State rail inspectors uncovered more than 700 track and equipment defects and 12 hazardous material violations during seven inspection “blitzes” this year, according to the report, which documents New York’s progress in implementing 12 recommendations to improve safety.
Cuomo’s administration accuses federal officials of moving “unacceptably slow” on proposed rules to make crude shipments safer, including a proposal to phase-out the DOT-111 rail cars that many consider unfit for shipping oil.
“Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”
Hydraulic fracturing has fueled a surge in U.S. oil production and the use of trains to carry highly flammable crude from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota to Albany’s port. From there it is shipped by rail and water down the Hudson River valley.
On July 6, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Megantic, a town in Quebec, Canada. Oil leaked from the train’s DOT-111 cars and ignited, causing explosions and the deaths of 47 people.
In February, a freight train pulling empty oil cars derailed in the Town of Ulster. Supervisor Jim Quigley said he has been vocal about upgrading the tank cars.
New York added five safety inspectors, began training local emergency responders and started the process of updating spill-response plans as part of a multipronged strategy to protect communities along shipment routes.
Last month, the state urged the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to “expeditiously” remove DOT-111 cars from service or require they be retrofitted to carry oil.
Sen. Charles Schumer described the cars as “ticking time bombs.”
“I am pushing DOT to commit to the strongest of these regulations as soon as possible,” he said. “We can’t afford any delay.”
Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6404, JMargolis@biologicaldiversity.org
Leah Rae, Riverkeeper, (914) 478-4501 x 238, LRae@riverkeeper.org
Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil and
Hazardous Material Trains to Prevent More Derailments
Existing Federal Proposals Fail to Sufficiently Protect Public, Environment From “Bomb Trains”
PORTLAND, Ore.— In the face of a dramatic rise in trains carrying explosive crude oil and derailing in a series of devastating accidents, the Center for Biological Diversity and Riverkeeper, Inc. today petitioned the Obama administration to protect the public and environment by significantly reducing the risk of oil train derailments by limiting the length and weight of trains hauling oil and other hazardous liquids.
Federal regulators have acknowledged that the weight and length of oil trains has contributed to derailments and spills in recent years, and that, in all cases, the size of a train compounds the potential significance of a disaster. But agencies have not proposed any solutions to address this concern. In fact the latest federal proposal aimed at improving tanker car safety admits the rule could result in longer, heavier trains.
“One of the quickest ways to make these oil trains safer is limiting how much of this volatile crude oil they can carry,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “The government has acknowledged the dangers of these massive trains — now it needs to take action to protect people and wildlife from spills and derailments.”
Today’s petition calls for oil trains to be limited to 4,000 tons, which is the weight the American Association of Railroads has determined to be a “no problem” train, meaning there would be significantly less risk of derailment. This would limit oil trains to 30 cars. Most oil trains today include about 100 cars — well beyond what the industry has determined to be truly safe.
“Federal regulators have admitted these oil trains pose a significant risk to life, property and the environment, and granting our petition would significantly reduce those risks,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper. “The government, to date, has left the lid off this explosive industry — setting a cap on train length and weight is a necessary, logical, safety step that is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risks that our communities, first responders and ecosystems are confronted with on a daily basis.”
Oil transport, especially by rail, has dramatically increased in recent years, growing from virtually nothing in 2008 to more than 400,000 rail cars of oil in 2013. Billions of gallons of oil pass through towns and cities ill equipped to respond to the kinds of explosions and spills that have been occurring. A series of fiery oil-train derailments in the United States and Canada has resulted in life-threatening explosions and hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil being spilled into waterways.
The worst was a derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people, forced the evacuation of 2,000 people, and incinerated portions of a popular tourist town. The most recent explosive derailment occurred in April in downtown Lynchburg, Va., resulting in crude oil leaking out of punctured tank cars, setting the James River on fire and putting habitat and drinking water supplies at risk.
Without regulations that will effectively prevent derailments, oil trains will continue to threaten people, drinking water supplies and wildlife, including endangered species.
“This petition directly tackles one of the root causes of these dangerous, unnecessary oil train derailments,” said Margolis. “We’ll continue to push regulators until they step up and ensure the safety of people, wildlife and the environment we all share.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Riverkeeper is a member-supported environmental watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and to protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents.