Tag Archives: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

BNSF: if you live in a city of 100,000 or more, you might be just a TINY BIT safer – others, not so lucky

Repost from WDAZ TV, Grand Forks ND
[Editor:  By announcing these measures, BNSF is trying to put a happy face on continuing potential for train catastrophes.  These measures won’t help much, and notice they still are expecting an oil industry  “phase-out” of DOT-111 cars rather than an immediate ban.  – RS]

BNSF trains slow down: Railway announces plans to improve safety measures for oil shipments

By April Baumgarten / Forum News Service, Mar 29, 2015 at 11:32 a.m.
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Bismarck, ND (Forum News Service) – One of the top rail companies in the U.S. has announced steps to improve rail safety in North Dakota.

BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose outlined plans recently with Gov. Jack Dalrymple to implement additional measures throughout the company’s national rail system. BNSF also informed its customers on Friday about the safety measures, according to a news release.

“Railroad operations, equipment and maintenance are critical elements in our overall goal to improve rail safety, and I commend BNSF for taking these significant steps,” Dalrymple wrote in the release. “At the same time, we must move forward on other important aspects of rail safety including the need for new federal tank car standards and greater pipeline capacity.”

BNSF began a move Wednesday to have all of its oil trains reduce speeds to 35 mph through all municipalities with 100,000 or more residents. The speed reduction is temporarily in place until its customers phase out DOT-111 tanks cars from service, BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino said Saturday. Phasing out of the older cars, which will be replaced by CPC-1232 railcars to meet federal safety standards, is expected to begin in May, and BNSF hopes to complete the process by the end of the year. When that happens, BNSF will reconsider the speeds.

The shipping companies, not BNSF, own the cars, so the railway company has to wait on its customers to make the transition to the newer cars. The move was a voluntary part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Trevino said.

“What we want to do is do what we can to improve the safety of our operation,” he said. “What we can do is slow those trains down in larger communities.”

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said it was good to see BNSF taking proactive action to address railroad and safety weaknesses, though there are other measures he would like to see rail companies consider.

“I think many of our rural communities would also argue that their lives are no less at risk,” he said.

The only city in North Dakota that would fall under the reduced-speed measure is Fargo. The state’s largest city had an estimated population of about 113,700 people in 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Bismarck, the second largest city, had 67,000. Grand Forks, which is a collector for train traffic at its switch station, was home to about 55,000 residents.

“That doesn’t do a whole lot to secure our other communities,” Mock said.

Slowing the trains down in all communities would reduce the amount of product BNSF could ship and would burn up time, Trevino said. It would also impact trains hauling other commodities, such as grain or anhydrous ammonia. He added the measures go beyond the federal standard.

“If you slow those trains all around the network, then that (network) becomes as fast as that train,” he said.

Residents in Grand Forks feel uneasy when they see the “iconic-black, cylindrical tanks,” Mock said. Fortunately, Grand Forks has a train junction for switching lines, and many trains are coming through at a slow speed, meaning risk of a derailment is greater in cities where trains are traveling at higher speeds.

Still, residents are still curious and ask, “what if.”

“When a person sees a train rolling through town that has those iconic-black tanks running a mile long, there is a little apprehension,” he said.

Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot, said he was pleased when progress is made, adding he is comfortable with the governor’s response.

“If he feels the railroads are taking positive steps, that’s always good,” Maragos said.

Trevino said BNSF has also increased rail detection testing frequencies 2 ½ times federal standards, which tests the quality of the rail. It has also reduced tolerance for removing a car from a train for a potential defect, meaning the bar is set higher for a car’s quality and safety features.

For example, if a wheel is defective, it may be removed from the train immediately.

Previous derailments

Both North Dakota and rail companies have come under fire after several oil trains have derailed across Northern America, the most infamous being the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, derailment in July 2013. A runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying Bakken crude went off the tracks and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying the center of the city.

Closer to home, a BNSF train carrying crude hit a derailed grain train in December 2013 near Casselton, forcing it off the tracks and resulting in a fiery explosion. No injuries or deaths were reported, though a temporary evacuation was put into place. It was the fifth derailment near the city in 10 years, and another BNSF train with lumber and empty crude cars derailed in November.

Both trains used DOT-111 cars.

More recently, a CSX Corp. train derailed Feb. 16 near Mount Carbon, W. Va. Two Canadian National Railway Co. trains derailed in Ontario between February and March.

As a result, both Canada and the U.S. have looked into implementing measures to prevent disasters. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued orders to phase out the DOT-111 cars. While that is not expected to occur until May, Dalrymple urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a recent phone call to issue the new tank standards “as soon as possible,” according to the release. Dalrymple also told Foxx that pipelines offer the safest mode of transporting crude oil to market.

Action in North Dakota

North Dakota has also attempted to tame the flames. The state Industrial Commission unanimously approved a requirement for all oil producers to install and utilize oil-conditioning equipment to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude. The order would bring the vapor pressure of every barrel of oil produced in North Dakota under 13.7 pound per square inch before it is shipped. Crude producers must comply starting Wednesday.

Dalrymple and the Public Service Commission have also proposed a state-run railroad safety program and pipeline integrity program “that would complement federal oversight in North Dakota,” according to the release. The proposal would cost North Dakota $1.4 million for three position to inspect railroad tracks. Another three state employees would inspect pipelines that transport oil and other liquids to market.

Dalrymple’s release also comes the same week the North Dakota House voted down legislation requiring the state Department of Transportation to report on rail safety issues to a legislative committee. Senate Bill 2293, sponsored by Sen. George B. Sinner, D-Fargo, proposed spending $6 million every two years to carry out committee recommendations, but was criticized by Republicans because was “an unnecessary, duplicative requirement” since DOT already conducts studies, Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told Forum News Service this week.

The House voted down the bill 34-55 on Monday. Mock was disappointed with the bill’s failure, stating it was “incredibly shortsighted for the Legislature to fail that measure.”

“The legislators owe it to the people back home to get these reports on a more timely basis — find out what companies, like BNSF, are doing and make sure we are updated on the progress of railroad safety enhancements.” he said.

Sinner said the release is likely a response to the press coverage of SB 2293’s failure, and voting the bill down was political. While North Dakota has started to address the issues, Sinner said the state needs to do more.

He pointed out that all the legislators that voted against the bill were Republican.

“(The Republicans) have not offered one bill on rail safety this Legislature,” he said. “We need to have a bipartisan effort on this issue. This issue is too important.”

Maragos, who also supported the bill, said the state is addressing safety issues as they come to light. While it was hard for him to say if what leaders are doing is enough, he feels the state is doing everything it can to prevent accidents.

“For some people, it is never enough,” he said. “For others, it’s pushing too hard.”

He added: “When we see that isn’t enough, we’ll just move in to improve or strengthen the policies.”

Making rail safety a priority

BNSF plans to invest more than $335 million in track maintenance and capital improvement projects in North Dakota this year, including in Dickinson, Jamestown, Devils Lake and Hillsboro.

There are many products that are shipped from the state across the continent, Mock said, and other states are looking to North Dakota for assurance that cargo is packaged correctly.

He pointed to a derailment in Minot, where a Canadian Pacific train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed on Jan. 18, 2002. The incident released approximately 146,700 gallons of anhydrous, and a poisonous gas cloud hovered over the city, causing the death of at least one person and injuring more than 322 people, according to the National Transportation Safety Board report. The disaster also prompted an evacuation and caused more than $10 million in damages and environmental remediation.

Mock said had he not been allowed to leave work an hour early due to a slow night, he would have been caught in the fumes.

“Railroad safety is not just a Bakken crude issue,” he said. “The one state that should be taking railroad safety the most seriously is North Dakota, because our reputation is on the line.”

Like residents across the state, Mock would like to see more done. Railroad safety is a comprehensive issue that requires realistic standards, he said.

About 90 percent of North Dakota’s exports go out on rail, Sinner said. If a train carrying cargo from the state has an accident that could have been prevented, North Dakota’s industries will be affected, he added.

“The economic security of this state relies on the rail industry,” he said.

Maragos said the railroad companies are doing what they can to improve safety.

“With the amount of rail traffic and understanding that mechanical things break, even (BNSF), which is moving most of the oil, I think they are very sensitive to it, and I think they’re the best job they can in addressing safety concerns,” he said.

Trevino concurred, stating BNSF is doing everything it can to keep communities and its employees safe.

“We understand how to run our railroad,” he said. “We understand better than anyone the kinds of steps that can be taken to prevent loss, to mitigate potential loss, should an event occur, and respond to an event.”

Though Sinner is not sure to what extent, he said he plans to follow the issue closely and find ways to improve railroad safety.

“We need to do something with the increase in rail traffic and trains traveling around our state,” he said. “We need to make sure rail safety is a real priority.”

The Press was unable to contact Dalrymple on Saturday.

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    North Dakota will rely more on pipelines by 2018

    Repost from UPI Business News
    [Editor: Significant quote: “Dalrymple said rail traffic may drop off once new pipeline infrastructure comes online. Three pipelines — Sandpiper, Dakota Access and Upland — should be in service by 2018”  – RS]

    North Dakota reviews oil-train safety

    About half of the oil produced in the state is delivered by rail.

    By Daniel J. Graeber   |   March 19, 2015 at 9:40 AM
    North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple calls for tighter rules to ensure safe transport of crude oil from state’s Bakken shale reserve. Photo by Steven Frame/Shutterstock

    BISMARCK, N.D., March 19 (UPI) — There’s no way to offer a single solution that would allay concerns about the safety of crude oil transit by rail, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

    Dalrymple spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to discuss efforts to improve the safe transport of crude oil by rail from the state. The Republican governor said he called on the secretary to adopt new standards for rail cars carrying crude oil as soon as possible.

    “Secretary Foxx and I agree that there is no single solution to improving the safety of rail transportation,” Dalrymple said in a statement Wednesday.

    North Dakota crude oil production is more than existing pipeline capacity can handle, forcing many in the industry to use rail as an alternative transit method. The increase in rail traffic has in turn led to an increase in derailments involving trains carrying crude oil, a situation compounded by federal reports showing oil from the Bakken reserve area in North Dakota may be less stable than other types of crude oil.

    A 200-page proposal from the Department of Transportation last year called for the elimination of older rail cars designated DOT 111 for shipment of flammable liquid, “including most Bakken crude oil.”

    A February derailment in West Virginia involved a train carrying Bakken oil. At least 40 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in the 2013 derailment of a train carrying tankers of crude oil from North Dakota to Canadian refineries.

    Dalrymple said rail traffic may drop off once new pipeline infrastructure comes online. Three pipelines — Sandpiper, Dakota Access and Upland — should be in service by 2018 and provide 895,000 barrels per day in new capacity.

    North Dakota produces about 1.2 million bpd and about half of that is shipped by rail.

    The state government in December approved a new measure that requires oil producers in North Dakota to install equipment at their facilities that would reduce the volatility of Bakken crude.

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      League of California Cities: Policy & Advocacy on Oil by Rail

      Repost from The League of California Cities


      Oil by Rail

      Since summer 2014, the League of California Cities has been carefully monitoring transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail. Staff has researched this issue as part of an ongoing effort to educate our members, and to better advocate for improved rail safety.

      To that end, the League has taken the following actions on this issue:

      1. September 2014: Hosted a meeting on Oil by Rail, as part of the proceedings of the League’s Annual Conference in Los Angeles, to update members on recent state legislative and budgetary actions geared toward improving rail safety and improving first responder capability to address derailments involving hazardous materials
      2. September 2014: Issued a Comment Letter to the Department of Transportation on the pending federal rulemaking on rail safety improvements. In that letter, the League called for improved information flow to, and improved training for, first responders, as well as requiring improved safety features for tank cars transporting crude oil, which had already been recommended by federal regulatory agencies.
      3. October-November 2014: Held a series of educational webinars for League members (see links below). The goals of these webinars were to enhance members’ understanding of the transport of hazardous materials by rail generally, the extent of federal pre-emption of rail safety regulations, and the narrow remainder in which local governments are allowed to regulate.  Finally, staff shared with League members the League’s draft policy for safety recommendations to help guide local advocacy efforts on this issue with federal agencies and the relevant federal representatives.
      4. February 2015: Featured in Western City, the League’s monthly magazine, a cover article on this issue, entitled A Growing Risk: Oil Trains Raise Concerns by Cory Golden.
      5. February 20, 2015: The League Board of Directors approved the draft Recommendations for Improved Rail Safety as the League’s official policy.  These recommendations were based on common themes that arose in multiple state regulatory entities’ comment letters, including the Office of Emergency Services, the California Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, and the California Public Utilities Commission.
      6. March 6, 2015: League of California Cities Executive Director Chris McKenzie issued a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, submitting ten key recommendations for improving rail safety based on the League’s newly adopted policy, and requested expedited action on their implementation. The letter emphasized that the requested changes be implemented as mandates, rather than recommendations to the relevant industries, that they be accompanied by hard deadlines, and finally, that they be included in the final rule for the Safe Transportation of Crude Oil and Flammable Materials currently under consideration by federal authorities.

      Below are links to many of the items referred to above, as well as a sample letter for local jurisdictions to use in advocating to their federal elected officials and to Transportation Secretary Foxx.

      Background Materials

      Additional Resources

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        Federal regulator for U.S. oil trains to step down

        Repost from Reuters
        [Editor: Watch industry lobbying efforts as the scramble for power ensues.  For instance … note the posturing in this article by  Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, who reportedly said “dealings with Quarterman have improved in recent months as oil train hysteria has subsided.”  Nice  to know that our concern for safety and clean air is so easily dismissed as hysteria.  – RS]

        Quarterman, regulator for U.S. oil trains, to step down: sources

        By Patrick Rucker, WASHINGTON, Sep 24, 2014
        Top Oil Train Regulator Is Stepping Down
        PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, left, during House testimony (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly)

        (Reuters) – Cynthia Quarterman, the federal regulator who oversaw expansion of the U.S. oil train sector and the fallout from several fiery derailments, will step down, two sources familiar with her intentions said on Wednesday.

        As administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) since November 2009, Quarterman has been a leading safety official as oil train deliveries from North Dakota neared 750,000 barrels a day and spectacular derailments in the United States and Canada raised concerns about such shipments.

        PHMSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been under scrutiny for more than a year as officials have tried to respond to the hazards posed by oil train cargoes, which have grown in volume along with a rise in domestic crude production.

        PHMSA did not confirm Quarterman’s departure, which reportedly will come next week.

        Quarterman, previously an attorney whose practice focused on the transportation and energy industries, was often the face of federal policy, defending government actions to lawmakers, industry and safety advocates.

        “If you have upset everyone a little, you’re probably doing a good job,” said Brigham McCown, a former PHMSA head.

        “The prevailing view is she’s done a good job in challenging times,” McCown said.

        Among other things PHMSA has been tasked with writing new safety standards for oil trains and other hazardous cargo. Tuesday marks a deadline for public comment on the proposed safety rules.

        Quarterman and other regulators have often been caught between energy interests who argue oil-by-rail safety concerns are inflated and political leaders who represent communities along the tracks.

        Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said dealings with Quarterman have improved in recent months as oil train hysteria has subsided.

        “As we moved to more of a science-based approach, things smoothed out,” he said. “Our more recent work with Quarterman and (U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony) Foxx has been very, very positive.”

        Another major incident on Quarterman’s watch was the pipeline rupture in Mayflower, Arkansas, in March 2013. About 5,000 barrels of crude oil spilled from a line that is part of Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline from Illinois to Texas.

        (Reporting by Patrick Rucker; additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in North Dakota; Editing by Ros Krasny and Sandra Maler)
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