Category Archives: Derailment

NPR reporter visits Davis, Benicia

Repost from NPR Marketplace:

Communities along rail lines worry about oil explosions

David McNew/Getty Images – A diesel tanker truck passes windmills along the 10 freeway on  near Banning, California.
by Sarah Gardner
February 6, 2014 – 10:29am
Ever lapsed into daydreaming while you sit at a railroad crossing, waiting for a long freight train to go by?

After a fatal oil train explosion in Quebec last summer killed 47 people and flattened a downtown, people aren’t daydreaming anymore. That disaster served as a wake-up call to a lot of communities living close to railroad tracks, who suddenly realized that was crude oil rolling by in tanker. As oil trains have had more accidents, and governments are examining the safety of rail oil shipments, some local residents are applying the brakes on what they see as a dangerous rush to move oil by train.

There are, however, powerful economic reasons why more oil is being shipped by rail, rather than through pipelines.


Reporter Sarah Gardner talked with Graham Brisben, CEO and founder, PLG Consulting, about moving oil by train:

Q: How much crude oil are we moving on trains?

A: It’s certainly growing. It’s up to about 400,000 carloads per year today. Although crude by rail gets a lot of attention — it’s a big focus in the media partly because it’s an area of growth for railroads, but also because there have been a number of high profile crude-by-rail accidents — the reality is it’s only 2 to 3 percent of total car loadings for the railroads.

Q: Why are they using trains to move oil to refineries?

A: Initially, when crude by rail got started, it occurred in the Bakken play in North Dakota. The initial idea was to use rail to get crude to market simply to bide the time until pipelines were built out with enough capacity. But once crude oil got going, the commodity traders and the exploration and production companies realized that rail gave them faster transit times, the ability to ramp up more quickly than pipelines, and the ability to take the crude oil to different destinations where a higher price could be received for those barrels.

Q: There’s not just one price?

A: No. Because crude oil trades at different prices at different places according to oil benchmarks (like West Texas Intermediate, Light Louisiana Sweet and Brent).

Q: Won’t crude by rail go away when more pipelines get built?

A: As the pipeline network gets built out in a north-south direction, the flow of crude from the Bakken in North Dakota will have more of a shift from rail back to pipeline. But going east-west, that business will persist. You’re simply not going to see a buildout of pipelines going east-west. It’s simply cost-prohibitive to go over the Rocky Mountains, for example.

Q: What about tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada?

A: That oil is coming to market both by pipeline and now, increasingly, by rail. First, it was the light, sweet crude out of the Bakken. Now, it’s heavy sour Canadian crude going to U.S. refineries.

Q: Who’s making money on all this?

A: Obviously this has been a bright spot for the railroads. And tank car builders and leasers have enjoyed some very flush returns. The other beneficiary has been commodity traders who take advantage of those price spreads. It’s also a good time to be in the refining business because of abundant domestic supply. They’re in a better position than they were five years ago.

Q: Federal regulators are moving to increase safety standards in light of recent accidents. Will those new regulations affect the economics of crude by rail?

A: Crude by rail is economically attractive enough to warrant the hard work it is going to take to improve safety. The measures that can be taken, in reality, aren’t all that difficult. We expect regulations on retrofitting tank cars with crude oil. Also it wouldn’t surprise me if there end up being routing guidelines away from population centers, along with the speed restrictions. And greater scrutiny of terminal operations.

Q: Railroads seem very old-fashioned somehow. Could we live without them?

A: Could we live? Yes. Could our economy survive without railroads? No.

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Latest oil train derailment

Repost from Reuters

Train carrying fuel oil derails, spills in Mississippi

By Therese Apel
Fri Jan 31, 2014

JACKSON, Mississippi (Reuters) – A Canadian National Railway Co train carrying fuel oil and other hazardous materials derailed and was leaking in southeast Mississippi on Friday, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents, officials said.

Reuters / Andrew Burton

No one was injured in the incident which involved the derailment of 21 railcars, eight of which have spilled their contents, a Canadian National Railway spokesman said.

Several of the cars were carrying hazardous materials including fertilizer and methanol, but there was no fire, he said.

The accident, the latest in a string of North American train derailments over the past year, occurred in the city limits of New Augusta in Perry County, near a mobile home park, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Emergency services were on the scene and responding to the accident, local officials said.

Local sheriff Jimmy Dale Smith said that fewer than 20 people have had to be evacuated at last count.

“They’ve got these spills pretty much contained and secured, and we’re working on starting the cleanup process at this point,” Smith said from the scene. “Hopefully we can get everything cleaned up this afternoon and get people in their homes tonight.”

Friday’s accident follows a spate of explosive derailments of trains carrying crude oil over the past year that has raised questions about safety, especially of some older tank cars prone to puncture.

Federal regulators have been studying railcar design and other issues after the accidents, including one last month when a 106-car BNSF Railway Co train carrying crude east crashed into a derailed westbound BNSF grain train near Casselton, North Dakota.

Last July, a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

(Additional reporting by Solarina Ho in Toronto; writing by Edward McAllister in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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New instrument for tracking rail failures

Repost from

One Solution To Ending Train Derailments

Wed, 01/22/2014
Joel Hans, Managing Editor,

Amid a few newsworthy derailments of trains carrying crude oil, energy companies and the public alike are concerned about the future of the U.S. rail infrastructure and what can be done in the near future to mitigate potentially serious and deadly incidents. With some 140,000 route-miles of track in the U.S. as of 2011, and thousands of bridges spanning rivers or interstates that must be navigated on a daily basis, there are countless points of failure.

Civil engineers have long been aware of the way that seasonal heating and cooling can affect the very structure of the railroad ties via expansion and contraction, particularly near bridges. To mitigate those affects, engineers have been using expansion joints on bridges, but when it comes to the extreme heat that much of the continental U.S. sees on an annual basis, it’s difficult to engineer a system that can withstand as much as four feet of expansion in a mile-long section of rail.

When this happens, the rail can buckle, a phenomenon known in the industry as a “sun kink,” which are leading causes of train derailments. In the winter, extreme bouts of cold can cause enough contraction to crack ties and pull them apart, to the point where they need to be warmed by up using flaming rope or other methods.

Naturally, the companies that manufacture steel tracks are doing more work to pre-stress rails and joints to minimize these affects. But one company, Alliance Sensors Group, argues that while many engineers within railway companies and mass transit agencies are doing good work to instrument bridges for movement, structural problems or track shifting, many of these inspections are visually-based, and not often enough, which leaves routes open to unnoticed flaws.

Instead, the bridges can be instrumented to determine if there are any flaws in the tracks, which means that railway companies could divert trains and repair the issues before an incident, such as a derailment, takes place.

Alliance Sensors Group has developed a linear sensor that can measure bridge movements and create empirical data on the condition of rails and bridges that can be tracked in real-time. They’re able to survive all the elements that leave railways buckling or cracking, such as extreme cold and heat, along with humidity, rain and snow. An IP67 rating guarantees that it won’t succumb to the elements.

In the photo, the company’s LV-45s have been affixed to the pier and to the bridge using ball joint swivel rodends. With this in place, the system can measure positional changes in three axes and track those changes over time, which means engineers can proactively identify potential problems, or, in the worst case, respond faster to potential derailment incidents. And if that means less trains coming off the tracks, we’re completely onboard.

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