Repost from The Wall Street Journal [Editor: Don’t get too excited when you read the headline. The new braking systems WILL be required, but only after a 6-year phase-in period extending to 2021, and only on unit trains of 70 cars or more. It’s telling that the railroads would even fight that kind of lazy safety upgrade. – RS]
Railroads Lose Challenge of Oil-Train Rules
DOT ruling denies appeals by industry group and others
By Laura Stevens, Nov. 10, 2015 4:14 p.m. ET
Railroads lost an agency appeal with the U.S. Department of Transportation in a battle over new crude-by-rail rules that require the installation of expensive new brakes on trains hauling hazardous flammable materials.
In a ruling issued by its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last week, the agency denied appeals challenging the new rules, including one from the Association of American Railroads.
“While we understand that shippers, carriers, and tank-car manufacturers for Class 3 flammable liquids will face new challenges in the wake of these regulations, we maintain that they are capable of complying with the final rule,” the agency wrote.
The rail-industry group could still appeal the decision in court. A spokesman said the organization is reviewing the decision and considering its options.
The new rules, issued by the Transportation Department in May, include the phasing in of tougher tank-car standards over several years and requirements for new braking systems on trains hauling more than 70 cars of crude oil by 2021.
Repost from McClatchyDC [Editor: Bloomberg adds coverage of NTSB comments on the inadequacies of the CPC-1232 tank cars. – RS]
NTSB: Equip oil trains with fire protection within 5 years
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 6, 2015
The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday called for the nation’s fleet of railroad tank cars hauling crude oil and ethanol to be equipped with fire protection within five years in an effort to eliminate the large explosions associated with recent accidents.
The NTSB cited the performance of tank cars in four recent oil train derailments, two in the U.S. and two in Canada, where fire exposure weakened the bare steel tanks and increased the pressure inside the cars beyond what they were designed to sustain.
The agency called on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to require tank cars carrying oil and ethanol to be equipped with a ceramic blanket and high-capacity pressure-relief devices.
The NTSB also for the first time endorsed a five-year timeline for retrofitting or replacing the tank cars, including the goal that 20 percent of the fleet be made compliant per year. Industry groups representing oil producers and refiners have pushed for a 10-year timeline.
“We can’t wait a decade for safer rail cars,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement. “The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements, otherwise, we continue to put our communities at risk.”
In January, the NTSB added tank cars to its “ Most Wanted” list of safety improvements. But at the time, Hart wouldn’t say what the NTSB considered an appropriate timeline for making the fixes.
The independent board, which has only advisory power, has been recommending upgrades to the nation’s workhorse tank car, called the DOT-111, for more than 20 years.
The car’s design became an issue after railroads across North America began hauling exponentially larger volumes of crude oil and ethanol. An oil train derailment that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013 galvanized a new effort on both sides of the border to improve the cars.
In February, the Transportation Department sent a package of proposed regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. They include requirements for thermal protection on the tank cars and are similar to a tank car design the Canadian government proposed last month. The final rule is scheduled for publication next month.
In the meantime, four trains carrying different types of crude oil derailed in the span of four weeks. The derailments, two in Ontario, and one each in West Virginia and Illinois, led to spills, fires and evacuations.
Oil industry groups have called for more attention to preventing derailments and less emphasis on the cars and what’s in them. But the tank car improvements have widespread support from lawmakers, regulators, mayors and governors, the rail industry and the NTSB.
In statements Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio, both Oregon Democrats, praised the NTSB’s recommendations.
“I am very happy to see that they recommended thermal protection for cars carrying hazardous materials, an aggressive retrofit or replacement schedule, and a transparent, publicly available reporting mechanism to report tank car replacement,” DeFazio said.
“It is my hope that the next step from the administration will be a strong DOT rule that will get these cars upgraded quickly, or get them off the tracks completely,” Wyden said.
The railroad industry’s leading advocacy group in Washington echoed those calls.
“The freight rail industry supports an aggressive retrofit or replacement program and believes final regulations on new tank car standards will provide certainty and chart a new course in the safer movement of crude oil by rail,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, in a statement.
MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. — There will be another CSX train carrying Bakkan oil going through eastern Kanawha and Fayette counties soon now that the track has been repaired following the Feb. 19 derailment of an oil train near Mount Carbon.
“It’s part of the freight that goes over that line,” CSX Spokesman Gary Sease told MetroNews Friday. “Those shipments, along with all the other freight we haul, have resumed.”
The rebuilt line, just a few miles from Montgomery, reopened Thursday afternoon following a week long cleanup. [CONTINUED]
WASHINGTON — Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.
On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.
Nine days later a 100-car train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caught fire in a remote part of Ontario, Canada. Less than 48 hours later, a 109-car oil train derailed and caught fire in West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation. As the fire spread across 19 of the cars, a nearby resident said the explosions sounded like an “atomic bomb.” Both fires burned for nearly a week. [CONTINUED]
Gas vapor eyed as factor in West Virginia oil train fireball
By Patrick Rucker, Thu Feb 19, 2015 3:26pm EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal investigators will examine whether pressurized gas played a role in the massive blast that followed the derailment of a train carrying crude oil through West Virginia this week, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Thursday.
Questioning the possible role of gas vapors in the West Virginia fire broadens the debate over how to ensure public safety at a time when drastically larger volumes of crude oil are being shipped by rail and roll through cities and towns.
At least two dozen oil tankers jumped a CSX Corp track about 30 miles south of the state capital, Charleston, on Monday, touching off a fireball that sent flames hundreds of feet into the sky.
The U.S. Transportation Department said it has an investigator at the site to take samples of crude once the wreckage stops burning.
“We will measure vapor pressure in the tank cars that derailed in West Virginia,” said department spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling.
Some experts say the nature of the explosion, which saw a dense cloud of smoke and flame soaring upwards, could be explained by the presence of highly pressurized gas trapped in crude oil moving in the rail cars.
“Vapor pressure could be a factor,” said Andre Lemieux of the Canadian Crude Quality Technical Association, a trade group which is helping the Canadian government adopt crude oil quality tests.
The American Petroleum Institute, the leading voice for the oil industry, declined to comment on whether high vapor pressure might have played a role in West Virginia.
“What we need to do now is allow the accident investigators to do their jobs,” said Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the trade group.
In the past twelve months, API and the North Dakota Petroleum Council have argued that the dangers of vapor pressure are exaggerated, citing self-funded studies that indicate vapor pressure readings are safe.
The Transportation Department did not call for regulations governing the presence of gas vapors in a national oil train safety plan it drafted last summer and is now with the White House for review.
That plan would have oil trains fitted with advanced braking systems to prevent pileups and tougher shells akin to those carrying volatile propane gas on the tracks.
The question of whether gas vapors make oil shipments more prone to detonate has been kept on the margins of the U.S. debate over transporting oil by rail.
The oil train sector has thrived in recent years, pushed by a crude oil renaissance in North Dakota’s Bakken region.
(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Ernest Scheyder contributed from Williston, North Dakota; editing by Andrew Hay)