Category Archives: Crude By Rail

Maine emergency officials: new fed rules don’t apply to some crude oil trains

Repost from The Bangor Daily News
[Quote: “Railroads that transport crude or refined oil into the state are required to pay a monthly 3-cent per barrel fee into the state oil spill cleanup fund.”     Editor: Seems to me that California – and each county along the rails, and the City of Benicia and other refinery towns – should seriously consider adopting such a fee.  – RS]

New US rail safety rules will not apply to all trains carrying explosive

By Marina Villeneuve, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
May 15, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine — Just as the state has revealed that crude oil shipments by rail have resumed along the state’s rail lines, Maine emergency officials say new federal rules about shipping hazardous materials such as crude by rail don’t go far enough.

For example, the new rules do not apply to trains carrying less than a million gallons of crude or other material, yet such trains can cause explosions such as the recent one in Lynchburg, Virginia.

On Wednesday, officials at the Department of Environmental Protection said they have official reports of trains carrying crude resuming in March, after a four-month lull while crude was shipped by other means, mostly by sea or pipeline.

According to last Wednesday’s federal order on rail safety, carriers must tell state emergency response commissions the routes on which they will transport at least a million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota. Carriers also must estimate how many trains will travel, per week, through each county.

“It doesn’t help us with a mixed train, if it’s a train with other hazardous materials on it or if there’s a train that doesn’t meet that million gallon threshold of 35 cars,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, Maine Emergency Management Agency director. He called the order “a start.”

Each state has such commissions as part of the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, which requires federal, state and local emergency-planning and industry reports on how hazardous chemicals are stored, used and released. Fitzgerald heads Maine’s commission, which began in 1987.

Since a crude-oil train disaster left 47 people dead in a Quebec village last July, trains carrying the crude oil have derailed and ignited in Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick.

The order, said Fitzgerald and other officials charged with coordinating emergency response in Maine, fails to answer practical questions about railroad accidents involving hazardous materials, such as who will provide the needed equipment and manpower.

Though it encourages railroads to invest in training and resources for first responders such as firefighters, “there’s no requirement there,” said Mark Hyland, the emergency agency’s director of operations and response.

Robert Gardner, technological hazards coordinator for MEMA, said that by not addressing such issues, this burden remains with state, county and local officials. Safety officials’ best guess at what types of, and how much, hazardous materials are coming through Maine is reading the placard on a stopped train that indicates what it’s carrying.

“If a facility stores a certain amount of chemicals … we’d find out on annual reports if it’s in Maine,” said Gardner. “If a rail car or tractor-trailer is going to Quebec from Massachusetts or from New Brunswick to New York, and they’re not stopping in Maine, we have no idea what those products are. Do they add to the problems that exist already? Or are they different chemicals that we don’t normally see in Maine?”

Gardner noted that when a train operated by Canadian National Railway derailed 16 miles from Maine’s border in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, this January, five tank cars carrying crude oil and four carrying propane derailed and generated a four-day long fire and huge clouds of orange smoke.

“Trains carrying a smaller quantity wouldn’t fall under this executive order,” he said. A tank car typically carries 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

In March, Pan Am Railways carried 15,545 barrels — or 652,890 gallons — of crude oil into Maine, according to Department of Environmental Protection records. This is down from 385,566 barrels — or 16.2 million gallons — last March, and 70,484 barrels — 3 million gallons — reported last October, the last time Pan Am Railways reported carrying crude into Maine.

Railroads that transport crude or refined oil into the state are required to pay a monthly 3-cent per barrel fee into the state oil spill cleanup fund.

In March 2013, 13 tank cars operated by Pan Am Railways derailed and spilled about one gallon of crude oil near the Penobscot River in Mattawamkeag.

The federal emergency order states that “a pattern of releases and fires involving petroleum crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken and being transported by rail constitute an imminent hazard” as defined under federal code.

Chemicals that come through Maine include sulfuric acid and nitrous acid, according to Gardner.

Hyland said more notification of hazardous materials shipped by rail and better communications with railroads would help Maine emergency response officials better prepare for accidents.

“The communications part is something we’ve had a hard time with,” he said.

On Feb. 7, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Pan Am Railways asking for a list of the top 25 most hazardous materials it shipped through Maine in 2013.

In an email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, Fitzgerald said he spoke with a Pan Am Railways representative last week.

“They are reluctant to share information with us due to Freedom of Access laws in Maine,” said Fitzgerald, forwarding an August 2013 letter from the Department of Environmental Protection to Pan Am Railways. The letter addresses the company’s request to keep its oil transport records confidential for “security and competition” concerns.

“Our next step is to meet with the railroad in person to discuss our options for how they will share information with MEMA so that we can inform first responders,” said Fitzgerald, who said he hopes to have the meeting scheduled as soon as possible.

Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president at Pan Am Railways — one of the two railroads that have transported crude oil into Maine — did not respond to a request for comment.

Last August, the Association of American Railroads encouraged railroads to provide such information to emergency response agencies upon request, with the condition that officials do not share the list with the public.

Hyland said two emergency drills held in Lincoln this month and in Aroostook County last fall, where railroads helped supply tank cars and locomotives, are examples of “the kind of collaboration we want, training and exercises.”

Pan Am Railways helped provide equipment at the drill in Lincoln, and New Brunswick Southern Railway, Eastern Maine Railway and Maine Northern Railway took part in the Aroostook County drill.

“We want to continue to work with the railroad and be collaborative with them, instead of it being another regulation or a requirement that’s put on them,” said Fitzgerald, adding that if not for the federal government’s order, “we wouldn’t be getting this information.”

The Department of Transportation also issued an advisory urging oil shippers to use tank cars with the “highest level of integrity available” to transport Bakken crude.

MEMA officials said they support phasing out the tank cars most often used to transport crude oil. The cars, known as DOT-111s, have faced criticism since the 1990s for being too prone to puncture.

Peter Nielsen, Maine Municipal Association president, has come out strongly against the federal advisory, saying it sidesteps “20 years of investigations and fact-finding about the rail cars.

“We can follow our Canadian counterparts in banning unsafe DOT-111 tank cars and others known for years to be unsafe in crash situations,” Nielsen said in a press release. “That we lag our Canadian counterparts is embarrassing. Previous [U.S. and Canadian] efforts were made to move forward in concert in improving rail safety, but the U.S.’ weak-kneed measures to date will allow unsafe, rolling stock to remain in service.”

Nielsen wrote to the White House on Monday urging the ban of unsafe tank cars.

Retrofitting the existing 300,000 DOT-111 tank cars in use could cost up to $1 billion and take years, according to industry estimates.

“It’s time for a thorough review of the U.S. tank car fleet that moves flammable liquids, particularly considering the recent increase in crude oil traffic,” Edward Hamberger, the Association of American Railroads president and CEO said last November, calling for the shippers and rolling-stock leasing companies who own the tank cars to phase out and retrofit their fleets.

Irving Oil Ltd. announced in February that by the end of last month, it would convert its fleet to meet U.S. federal standards for tank cars built after October of 2011.

Since last fall, lawmakers and safety advocates have been urging the federal agency responsible for setting such standards to pass new and higher standards. On April 30, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration filed a notice of proposed rule-making, the next step in the often drawn-out process.

This story is part of the Center’s series “Lessons From Lac-Megantic.” The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Hallowell. Email: Web:

    Rachel Maddow: Disastrous record shows tank car hazard is decades old

    Repost from MSNBC – The Rachel Maddow Show
    [Editor: This is an incredible 18 minute report on the decades-long history of tank car failures, alerts by the National Transportation Safety Board … and inaction by the US Department of Transportation.  Enough!  – RS]

    Disastrous record shows tank car hazard

    Rachel Maddow  |  05/14/14

    Rachel Maddow illustrates the safety shortcomings of the rail tank cars that are used to in large number to ship highly flammable material including Bakken crude oil, pointing to accidents, explosions, and toothless warnings going back over decades.

      Non-pressurized DOT-111A tank cars known unsafe for decades

      Repost from McClatchyDC
      [Editor: The following influential report, published 1/27/14, was referenced in Rachel Maddow’s magnificent 5/14/14 expose on the decades of inaction on DOT-111 tank cars by the US Department of Transportation.  The Benicia Independent has published other reports by McClatchy’s Curtis Tate, but we had been unaware of this incredible – and timely – background piece.  Read, file away, send it with a letter to local, state and federal officials.  It’s time for action now!  – RS]

      Railroad tank-car safety woes date decades before crude oil concerns

      Curtis Tate  |  McClatchy Washington Bureau  |  January 27, 2014 

      — Long before crude oil and ethanol were transported by railroads in large quantities in minimally reinforced tank cars, other flammable and poisonous materials were riding around the country in the same cars, threatening major cities and waterways.

      Federal regulators might be weeks away from issuing new safety guidelines for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, after a series of frightening rail accidents over the past six months.

      But the type of general-service tank car involved in recent incidents with crude oil trains in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota – the DOT-111-A – has a poor safety record with hazardous cargoes that goes back decades, raising questions about why it took so long for the railroad industry and its federal regulators to address a problem they knew how to fix.

      Other, more specialized types of tank cars received safety upgrades in the 1980s, and the industry’s own research shows they were effective at reducing the severity of accidents.

      Tank car manufacturers have built new DOT-111A cars to a higher standard since 2011, but the improvements haven’t caught up to tens of thousands of older cars.

      To be sure, improper railroad operations or defective track cause many accidents involving tank cars. But the National Transportation Safety Board, which makes recommendations but has no regulatory authority, has cited the DOT-111A’s deficiencies many times over the years for making accidents worse than they could have been.

      “Moving as quickly as possible to upgrade the tank cars is critical,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB who’s now a transportation safety consultant. “No one wants to see it happen again.”

      A review of federal reports and documents going back four decades shows that the DOT-111A tank car factored into a wide range of calamities, including:

      • A 1981 rail yard accident that shut down a portion of Newark International Airport and blocked traffic from reaching the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan until a punctured tank car finally burned out its contents of flammable ethylene oxide after 40 hours.
      • A 1983 rail yard accident that triggered the evacuation of 9,000 people in Denver when corrosive nitric acid escaped through a puncture in a tank car, forming a large vapor cloud.
      • A 1991 derailment – the worst chemical spill in California history – that sent a tank car loaded with a toxic pesticide tumbling into the Sacramento River, poisoning a 40-mile stretch of one of the state’s most important water supplies and fishing areas.
      • A 1992 spill near Superior, Wis., that resulted in the release of benzene into the Nemadji River, leading to the evacuation of 40,000 people in Superior and nearby Duluth, Minn., and the deaths of 16 species of wild animals near the accident site.
      • A 2001 derailment midway through a 1.7-mile, century-old rail tunnel beneath downtown Baltimore in which a punctured tank car carrying flammable tripropylene fed a raging fire that burned for five days, ruptured a 40-inch water main and prompted the evacuation of the Camden Yards baseball park.

      Many tank cars that were built starting in the 1960s were designed to carry as much cargo as possible, which meant thin shells that could easily puncture or rupture in a derailment. While economical, the designs proved disastrous in a number of horrific incidents involving toxic and flammable gases.

      The deaths of numerous railroad workers and emergency responders in the 1970s spurred regulators and the industry to improve the safety of the pressurized tank cars used to transport “all kinds of exotic materials that cause battlefield-like damage,” NTSB official Edward Slattery told The Associated Press in 1978.

      Six weeks after 16 people were killed in Waverly, Tenn., including the town’s police and fire chiefs, when a tank car filled with propane exploded following a train derailment, the NTSB convened an emergency hearing in Washington. Nearly 50 witnesses testified, including mayors, emergency responders, railroad executives, private citizens and a young state attorney general from Arkansas named Bill Clinton.

      “Every month in which unprotected tank cars ride the rails increases the chances of another catastrophic hazardous-materials accident,” said James King, then the NTSB’s chairman, in opening the hearing on April 4, 1978.

      By the early 1980s, pressurized cars were equipped with puncture-resistant shields, fire-resistant thermal insulation and devices to help the cars stay coupled in derailments, reducing the risk that they could strike and puncture each other.

      An industry study found that the retrofits made a big difference within six years. Punctures of the car’s heads – the round shields at each end of the car – fell by 94 percent. Punctures in the car’s shell – its cylindrical body – fell 67 percent. Ruptures due to fire exposure fell by 93 percent.

      Additional changes in railroad operating practices, track maintenance and training for emergency response personnel reduced the frequency and severity of accidents.

      The non-pressurized DOT-111A, however, was left mostly unaltered. Upgrades probably weren’t necessary when the cars were carrying benign products such as corn syrup or vegetable oils, but regulators also allowed the cars to transport flammable and corrosive materials.

      In accident after accident over the next three decades, the NTSB repeatedly referred to the cars’ shortcomings.

      “The inadequacy of the protection provided by DOT-111A tank cars for certain dangerous products has been evident for many years,” the NTSB wrote the Federal Railroad Administration in a letter dated July 1, 1991.

      Two weeks later, a Southern Pacific train came off the tracks in a sharp curve at Cantara Loop, near Dunsmuir, Calif. A DOT-111A tank car leaked 19,000 gallons of metam sodium into the Sacramento River from a relatively small puncture. That outcome could possibly been improved by installing a half-inch-thick shield over each car’s end, or head, a location vulnerable to punctures.

      In 1994, the railroad paid a $38 million settlement for a spill from just one tank car.

      A decade later, the DOT-111A fleet began hauling vast quantities of ethanol as a federal renewable-fuel standard, mandated in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, began to take effect.

      The cars’ vulnerability became evident more once, this time with a highly flammable liquid. The 2006 derailment of a Norfolk Southern ethanol train in New Brighton, Pa., about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, got the attention of the NTSB again on tank car safety.

      The ethanol boom took its toll in several other derailments, including a 2009 accident in Cherry Valley, Ill., near Rockford, that took the life of a motorist who was waiting for a train at a road crossing. Nine other people, including two firefighters, were injured. The NTSB, in its 2012 report on the accident, again cited the deficiencies of the DOT-111A.

      “If enhanced tank head and shell puncture-resistance systems such as head shields, tank jackets and increased shell thicknesses had been features of the DOT-111 tank cars involved in this accident,” the agency wrote, “the release of hazardous materials likely would have been significantly reduced, mitigating the severity of the accident.”

      Now Bakken crude oil, extracted from shale rock through hydraulic fracturing, has factored in at least three catastrophic derailments since July, including one that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

      Another large crude-oil fire erupted near Aliceville, Ala., in November, when a train left the tracks in an unpopulated wetland area. Nearly 750,000 gallons were spilled in that incident, according to federal data.

      In a preliminary report from its investigation of the December derailment of a BNSF crude oil train in Casselton, N.D., the NTSB said 18 of the 20 DOT-111A tank cars that derailed sustained punctures. The crash ignited a fire that billowed hundreds of feet into the frigid air, keeping two-thirds of the town’s 2,400 residents away from their homes for a day. The NTSB estimates that more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil spilled.

      “When it starts to become a pattern, it becomes a problem,” said Larry Kaufman, a retired railroad-industry public relations official who worked for BNSF predecessor Burlington Northern, as well as Southern Pacific, which has since merged into Union Pacific.

      In his budget plan this month, Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown modified the state’s oil-spill response plan to anticipate the increased risk of an inland incident involving crude oil transported by train, including any near rivers and streams that supply the state with water.

      Steve Evans, who coordinates the wild and scenic rivers program at Friends of the River, a group in Sacramento, Calif., was involved in settlement talks after the 1991 California spill.

      “We’re bound to have a disaster sooner or later,” he said.

      Read more here: