Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains
by Jim Snyder, April 17, 2015 10:00 AM PDT
Trains carrying crude oil will be restricted to a 40 mile-per-hour speed limit in populated areas such as New York under an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of derailments. Railroads voluntarily agreed to that speed limit in so-called High Threat Urban Areas, a designation that covers more than three dozen cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington. The emergency order issued Friday makes that agreement mandatory for all railroads hauling 20 or more tank cars linked together or 35 cars in total that are filled with oil or other flammable liquids. It applies to both older model DOT-111 tank cars and CPC-1232s the industry has been voluntarily building since 2011. “This order is necessary due to the recent occurrence of railroad accidents involving trains transporting petroleum crude oil and ethanol and the increasing reliance on railroads to transport voluminous amounts of those hazardous material in recent years,” the notice states. The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a proposal from the Transportation Department that would require a more durable type of tank car be used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. That rule may be released next month. A draft of that rule calls for tank cars with a thicker steel shell, more robust top fittings and better brakes.
Questions about the safety of the growing fleet of trains carrying oil arose after an unattended train broke from its moorings in 2013 and rolled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. This year, oil trains have derailed in Ontario and in West Virginia and Illinois, creating dramatic images of fireballs billowing from rumpled tank cars. The Transportation Department also issued a notice Friday to ensure railroads provide information to investigators after an accident within 90 minutes, including about the volatility of the oil being hauled and the type of rail car in the train. Investigators suspect an accident last month in Galena, Illinois, was related to a broken wheel, and in another step announced today, the Transportation Department recommended tighter standards for replacing wheels than the industry currently observes. Railroads should “provide special attention” to the condition of the tank cars they haul, the order states.
Repost from McClatchyDC News [Editor: Read the bill on Rep. McDermott’s website. Track the bill on GovTrac.us. Authenticated version of the bill is here. Co-sponsors of the bill include Representatives Jim McDermott (WA-7), Doris Matsui (CA-6), Ron Kind (WI-3), Nita Lowey (NY-17) and Mike Thompson (CA-5). A similar version of this legislation was filed in the Senate by Senators Cantwell, Baldwin and Feinstein in March 2015. – RS]
Matsui bill seeks ban on DOT-111 tank cars for oil trains
By Curtis Tate, April 15, 2015
Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, on Wednesday introduced a bill to address safety issues with crude oil trains following a series of recent derailments, including an immediate ban on tank cars that are vulnerable to punctures and fire damage.
Matsui cited the multitude of railroad tracks passing through Sacramento, some of which have been used to transport crude oil. The oil shipments have declined recently, but could rise again once new terminals are approved and constructed.
Since the beginning of the year, four oil trains have derailed and caught fire in North America, including derailments in West Virginia and Illinois, and two in Canada.
“Too many of our communities have been devastated by the derailment of a train carrying crude oil,” Matsui said in a statement. “Enough is enough.”
Matsui’s bill would prohibit DOT-111 tank cars from transporting crude oil, set tougher construction standards for new cars than the federal government currently requires, set a minimum volatility standard for oil transported by rail, increase fines and penalties for safety violations, and require that railroads share more information about hazardous shipments with local emergency responders.
The bill, also sponsored by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., is similar to Senate legislation unveiled a few weeks ago by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
The Senate bill is also co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is a co-sponsor of Matsui’s bill.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to issue new regulations on oil trains in the next few weeks, once the White House Office of Management and Budget has completed a review. It could be months, however, before those rules take effect.
“With multiple sets of tracks going through our neighborhoods and downtown area,” Matsui said, “the risk of a derailment in Sacramento is too great to ignore.”
State House bill: Report volume, contents of oil trains
By Joel Connelly, April 14, 2015
A bill that would require “comprehensive reporting” of the volume and specific contents of oil trains crossing Washington was passed on a bipartisan vote by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The legislation goes to the Republican-run state Senate, where key committee chairs enjoy much closer relationships with railroads and oil refiners.
“The House has passed these urgently needed policies with bipartisan support, twice. Delay on the part of the Senate is unacceptable,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters.
(Washington Conservation Voters tried in 2014 to defeat several oil industry allies in the Senate, but lost every high-profile race.)
The legislation, passed on a 58-40 vote, requires that shippers and receivers give cargo data to first responders, but goes further and establishes a website for members of the public to access the information.
Washington Fire Chiefs, in letters sent last month to railroads, asked BNSF, Union Pacific and Canadian National to supply “Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans” and “Worst Case Scenarios” on an oil train accident.
BNSF has responded by offering the chiefs a meeting.
If there is such a response plan or plans, “I haven’t seen it,” new Seattle Fire Chief Harold Skoggins told a news conference with Sen. Maria Cantwell and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray last week.
“It would be nice were there a system created where we would be notified when this material is traveling through our city,” Skoggins added.
The railroads have been reticent about releasing cargo information, citing national security concerns and privately voicing fear of protests.
BNSF has, however, released information on the upgrading of tracks and investment in newer, safer oil tanker cars.
The House legislation goes further, directing rule making for such measures as tug escorts when hazardous cargoes are transported by water. It directs the state to inspect rail crossings and push for repairs.
And it would require oil companies to pay for increased oil spill prevention, preparedness and response.
Just two and a half years have passed since the first oil train, carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota, passed through Seattle en route to refineries in northern Puget Sound.
The state now sees about 19 oil trains a week. At least a dozen pass along the Seattle waterfront, through a mile-long tunnel, and past the stadium homes of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners and Seattle Sounders.
The BNSF has trained Seattle firefighters on oil tanker cars brought to a site in Interbay. But any serious fire would require a major response from numerous fire departments.
The legislation in Olympia has been inspired, in part, by the long delay in getting new oil train safety rules — such as getting old, unsafe tanker cars off the tracks — out of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The U.S. and Canada have seen a series of oil train fires in recent months. A runaway train wiped out the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. A train blew up near New Casselton, North Dakota, luckily in an unpopulated area. In February, there were major accidents and fires in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.
Sen. Cantwell is sponsoring federal legislation that would require railroads and oil companies to disclose routes and vapor content of trains to first responders.
Eventually, the senator warned last week, Puget Sound population centers could see up to 16 trains a day.
Repost from Emergency Management Magazine [Editor: An excellent online comment appears following this article: “Wultcom” writes, “As always it is heartening to see how first responders rise to the occasion to protect us all. If only such heroism rubbed off just a little on the railroad industry. The creation of courses for first responders is praiseworthy. But it does create a false sense of security, for when Bakken crude explodes, the force of the fire is too great to allow firefighters to get anywhere near it. The first duty of government is to protect citizens, not shareholders. The rail industry takes advantage of lax regulators, pro-business governments, frail labor unions, and our desire for oil independence to roll the dice on safety. They run 150 ton tank cars on 8000 foot trains with skeletal crews, well dictated by the profit motive. An alliance of railway workers, environmentalists, and blast zone citizens can force a safer method of transporting crude oil.” – RS]
The Ticking Rail Car: First Responders Are Preparing for the Worst
Railways are now carrying highly explosive Bakken crude oil, making emergency managers’ jobs even tougher.
By Jim McKay | April 10, 2015
Emergency managers have been asked in recent years to do a lot more with fewer resources. That job got even tougher with the advent of oil shipments from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota via rail around the country.
Bakken is obtained by hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, which has increased since 2000 and can be highly explosive. And there have been several train derailments recently, including one in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013 that killed 47 people.
In the U.S., a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in West Virginia on Feb. 16, 2015, sending orange flames skyward for days. There have been other derailments, and there’s concern of a scene like the one in Quebec happening in a major U.S. city, including those in Pennsylvania. A report by PublicSource said 1.5 million people are potentially at risk if a train carrying crude oil derails and catches fire there.
Emergency managers are concerned and doing what they can to mitigate a derailment and possible explosion in their backyards. There’s training available but questions remain: Do emergency managers have all the information they need? Can one locale handle an explosion caused by a 30,000-gallon oil tanker incident?
“From a people standpoint, the worst-case scenario is if you have one or more of these cars breach and start on fire,” said Rick Edinger, assistant chief of the Chesterfield County, Va., Fire and EMS Department and a hazardous materials expert. “There’s an ongoing debate about how volatile crude oil is. The feds and industry are coming to realize now that it really depends on where the oil comes from.”
Because of that and other reasons, it’s important to understand the nature of the product, according to Robert Gardner, technological hazards coordinator for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Emergency managers should study lessons learned and best practices and have safety data sheets. This information should be part of a risk assessment that lets first responders develop agency-specific response protocols that ensure responder safety and accounts for those exposed to potential fire.
Regional planning groups such as local emergency planning committees should review the routes that trains may use and identify sensitive receptors like water supplies, fisheries or agricultural areas.
Good to Know
There’s ongoing debate about what information communities and emergency managers should know about train routes and shipments of crude.
“Flow studies have been around for a long time and that’s an old tool that could be applied to figure out what’s going through your community,” Edinger said. “You may not have it down to the gallon and the day, but you have a great sense of what’s coming through and frankly, from a hazmat standpoint, I don’t need to know a specific time, I just need to know the worst-case scenario.”
Gardner said that in terms of actual shipments, there’s never enough information available. “We may know when a unit over a million gallons may be coming or where they are traveling, but those trains carrying fewer than 30 cars become unknowns,” he wrote in an email.
Some railroads have systems in place that allow for real-time knowledge of what any particular train may be carrying and the tanks’ location in the train.
Gardner said planning for Bakken crude oil transport is no different from any other hazardous material or even natural gas because you have an assessment and understand what you’re planning for and the role of those involved. But he acknowledged that the volume of the product is a concern.
The biggest concern for many is that one or more cars loaded with crude breach can start a fire. “Once you get past anything the size of a 9,000-gallon oil tanker, very few departments have the resources or capability to mitigate anything bigger,” Edinger said. “If you’re talking about a 30,000-tank car incident, even that would be beyond the capabilities of most departments in the initial stages, anyway.”
New federal rules instituted last year require carriers to notify state emergency response commissions about the transport routes of cars carrying at least 1 million gallons of crude from Bakken. But some emergency managers say that doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t include the typical load of 30,000 gallons.
Training is available for mitigating such a circumstance, but managing the volume of an incident that size could be daunting, Edinger said. “With the exception of a couple of departments, most can’t afford to stock and maintain the resources you would need to even approach doing something with one of these incidents.”
Gardner said the local Maine railroads have worked to educate first responders on rail safety. “This is of particular importance as rail employees have the specific knowledge of cars and engines that not all responders have, but need [in order] to have a safe response.”
Need Some Help
Gardner said it would help if the railroads could assist with the cost of the “gap pieces” of response equipment that have been identified as needed through the assessments. “It would be an immense help to many of the small volunteer agencies that we have in Maine and throughout the nation,” he wrote.
An examination of the tank car fleet that carries flammable liquids may be necessary as well. Canada has banned certain cars that are known to be unsafe in crash situations, but the U.S. has lagged. Part of the reason is the price. It would cost up to $1 billion to retrofit all of the 300,000 DOT-111 tank cars in use and take years.
“The dialog is going in a good direction,” Edinger said. “There seems to be agreement within public safety and the rail industry that we can do better with the construction of cars and that will improve, and perhaps prevent some incidents from happening.”