Category Archives: Electronically controlled pneumatic braking (ECP)

Derailment explosion – 3rd accident in North America involving upgraded DOT-117R tank cars

Repost from DeSmog

Ethanol Train Derails and Burns in Texas, Killing Horses and Spurring Evacuation

By Justin Mikulka, April 25, 2019
Fort Worth ethanol train fires
Screen shot of emergency personnel watching an ethanol train burn near Fort Worth, Texas. Credit: Glen E. Ellman

Early in the morning on April 24, an ethanol train derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly destroying a horse stable, killing three horses, and causing the evacuation of nearby homes. According to early reports, 20 tank cars left the tracks, with at least five rupturing and burning.

While specific details have not yet been released, it appears to be a unit train of ethanol using the federally mandated DOT-117R tank cars, based on the images showing tank car markings. This is now the third accident in North America involving the upgraded DOT-117R tank cars, all resulting in major spills of either oil or ethanol.

This latest fiery derailment highlights the dangers to the estimated 25 million people living within the blast zone along rail lines across North America. While this incident had no human fatalities, the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people, devastating the small Canadian town. As I’ve exhaustively reported, the same risk factors for hauling oil by rail, and increasingly, ethanol, are still in place years after the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

In Texas, first responders were quickly on the scene and able to contain the fire, preventing the situation from worsening. When ethanol rail tank cars are involved in fires, the unpunctured tanks can explode as the fire increases the temperature and pressure in the full tanks.

For example, after a BNSF train derailed in Montana in August 2012, eight of the 14 cars carrying ethanol caught fire, resulting in an explosion and the signature “bomb train” mushroom cloud–shaped ball of fire.

Video: Fort Worth ethanol train derailment. Credit: Glen E. Ellman

Ethanol Industry Adopting Risky Oil Train Practices

In 2016 DeSmog published a series of articles analyzing why oil trains were derailing at over twice the rate of ethanol trains. Likely contributing factors included the fact that the derailing oil trains were longer and heavier than ethanol trains.

The oil industry was moving oil using “unit trains,” which are long trains dedicated to a single commodity, while the ethanol industry was using shorter trains. The majority of ethanol was shipped as part of manifest trains, carrying multiple types of cargo and not just ethanol.

As part of the analysis, DeSmog found that derailing ethanol trains tended to be longer trains of 100 or more cars.

However, longer trains are more profitable, and in 2016 the ethanol industry noted it intended to follow the lead of the oil industry and begin to move more ethanol via long unit trains. This announcement led to the following conclusion in the 2016 DeSmog series:

“Based on the ethanol industry’s interest in using more unit trains for ‘efficiency,’ and the fact that it is allowed to transport ethanol in the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars until 2023, perhaps it won’t be long before ethanol trains are known as bomb trains too.”

And while the DOT-111 tank cars are less robust than the DOT-117R tank cars, both have a history indicating neither are safe to move flammable liquids in unit trains. And DOT-117R tank cars are heavier than DOT-111s, adding another factor that increases chances for train derailment.

Bomb Train Risks Continue to Grow

After a string of oil trains filled with volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale derailed and exploded in 2013 and 2014, there was a push for new safety regulations for trains carrying flammable materials including crude oil and ethanol.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation released new regulations, which, as DeSmog noted at the time, were a big win for the oil and rail industries and their lobbyists. While touted as increasing safety, these watered-down rules did not address the trains’ known risk factors or require the oil and rail industries to implement proven safety technologies. The one requirement in the new 2015 regulations that would have greatly improved safety mandated that railroads transition to modern braking systems. That requirement has since been repealed.

The rail industry frequently calls the upgraded tank cars, which include DOT-117Rs and were required by federal regulators, a safety improvement. However, in the first two derailments involving the new cars, those purportedly safer tank cars led to major oil spills. One of those occurred in February in Manitoba, Canada, and now the Fort Worth derailment appears to represent a third example of these upgraded rail cars’ failed safety.

In 2014 during rail safety discussions, the rail industry was recommending using much more robust tank cars — known as “pressure cars” — to move the volatile crude oil implicated in oil train explosions, but federal regulators did not incorporate the recommendation into the final rules. That is why oil and ethanol continue to be moved in rail cars that fail and lead to large leaks and fires during derailments.

In Utah a train carrying propane in pressure cars recently derailed, highlighting the risk of even those more robust tank cars. That derailment caused a propane leak, and hazmat experts decided the safest thing to do was detonate the tank cars, a situation possible when in rural Utah. However, health experts were concerned about the impact on air quality for local residents.

Despite the many examples of the risks of moving these flammable materials by rail, President Trump recently issued an executive order mandating federal regulators allow moving liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail as soon as next year.

These risks are why a group of people were just arrested for blocking oil train tracks in Oregon. And why legislators in the state of Washington have passed legislation requiring oil be stabilized — to make it less volatile and likely to ignite — prior to its loading on rail tank cars for shipment. Several states also are looking at passing laws requiring two-person crews for freight trains to improve safety. One of the factors cited in the deadly Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster was that the train was operated by a single person.

States are moving to address these very real, well-documented, and preventable risk factors because the U.S. federal government has fallen short in mitigating those risks to American communities from the oil and rail industries. These regulatory shortcomings, which began under President Obama’s administration, have only intensified under the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory approach. With the prospect of LNG trains in the near future — along with record amounts of oil trains coming from Canada to U.S. ports and refineries — the risks of “bomb train” accidents (the nickname bestowed by nervous rail operators) continue to grow.

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    Updates On The Threat Of Crude-By-Rail In California

    Repost of an email…
    [Editor: The email came with this March 2019 Mesa Refinery Watch Group Newsletter.  For much more, see mesarefinerywatch.com.  – R.S.]

    ——–
    From:
     Martin Akel, March 22, 2019
    Subject: Updates On The Threat Of Crude-By-Rail In California

    Dear [            ]:

    There’s no denying it — there are deliberate attempts to overturn regulations and policies that protect our environment, health and safety.  Therefore, regardless of the rejection of Phillips 66’s crude oil trains, we must remain educated about potential threats.  Click on the link below to read the latest MRWG newsletter, which includes …

    ► How Kern County followed in SLO County’s footsteps … saying “NO!” to crude oil trains.

    ► How the federal government used flawed data when canceling improved brakes for trains.

    ► How railroads have yet again missed the deadline for installing new safety technology.

    ► How Canada is expanding their production of dangerous tar sands and investing in crude oil trains.

    ► Why Phillips’ former claim of needing oil trains to gain “energy independence” was simply misleading.

    ► Plus — dozens of recent examples of serious railroad and oil industry safety problems.

    Respectfully,
    The Mesa Refinery Watch Group
    www.mesarefinerywatch.com

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      Open letter to Rep. Thompson, Sens. Feinstein & Harris – Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act

      By Roger Straw, January 30, 2019

      Dear Rep. Thompson, Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Harris:

      Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

      I read today that U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington 3rd District, reintroduced her 2018 bill to undo the reckless action of the Trump Administration’s Department of Transportation.  (See article from The Columbian reposted at right (or below).

      Please review this important legislation,  H.R.851, the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act(Link goes to Congress.gov.)

      Recall that my city, Benicia, California, is traversed by a major Union Pacific rail line that transports hazardous materials to and from refineries in the Bay Area.

      During Benicia’s  lengthy and successful 2013-2017 opposition to Valero Refinery’s “Crude by Rail” proposal, Benicia residents and officials became highly aware of the need for “Positive Train Control,” (PTC), or electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems.  This essential safety measure was initiated after a horrific crash in our state in 2008, and has suffered long delays due to railroad intransigence.  Background from the Sacramento Bee:

      The federal government first mandated the PTC system for major railroads after a Metrolink passenger train engineer became distracted by text messages on his cell phone, causing the train to go through a red signal and crash head-on into a freight train. The 2008 crash killed 25.

      Railroads have been slow to install the system, complaining it is complicated and costly. The federal government has repeatedly extended the deadline for railroads to have the system fully up, tested and running. The initial deadline of 2015 was first extended to the end of 2018, but that deadline, too, was extended for some railroads to 2020.

      As you may be aware, last September the Trump administration gutted previously adopted rail safety regulations calling for PTC and other rail safety measures.  See background from the Associated Press and several others.

      Also please be aware of an investigation initiated by Sens. Wyden and Merkley of Oregon.

      Please review this important legislation, H.R.7076, the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act and consider joining with Rep. Herrera Beutler in support.

      Roger Straw
      Benicia, California
      The Benicia Independent

      Repost from The Columbian

      WA Rep. moves to reinstate rail safety rules – Trump admin rolled back Obama-era regulations last year

      Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has reintroduced a bill to reinstate oil train safety regulations. The rules, implemented by the Obama administration in 2015, were rolled back last year.

      The regulations required trains carrying oil or other flammable materials to update air-controlled braking systems with electronic brakes. But the U.S. Department of Transportation previously determined the cost to outfit trains with new braking systems outweighed the safety benefit.

      Herrera Beutler first introduced the bill, known as the Oil and Flammable Material Rail Transportation Safety Act, to bring back the safety requirements in October.

      “With trains carrying hazardous materials through Southwest Washington, it is paramount we increase safety for the nearby communities,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release. “I’m committed to reversing the decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to ease this critical safety regulation, and reinstating the braking upgrade requirement for trains carrying flammable liquids.”

      The Washington State Department of Ecology classifies Southwest Washington as a major oil train corridor, with hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil moving through the region each year.

      “As a community that has oil trains regularly running through our commercial areas, neighborhoods and downtown, Vancouver is very supportive and appreciative of Congresswoman Herrera Beutler’s efforts to reinstate the requirement that oil trains transition to the much more effective electronic pneumatic brakes,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said in a press release.

       

       

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