Category Archives: Federal Regulation (U.S.)

‘Time warp’ for oil train safety

Repost from The Oregonian

By Rob Davis The Oregonian
January 24, 2014
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met Friday at Portland Fire & Rescue headquarters with railroad companies and first responders, saying reforms are needed to address dangers in Oregon from trains hauling potentially explosive crude oil.  (Rob Davis/The Oregonian)

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met Friday in Portland with railroad companies, emergency responders and public officials to deliver a clear message: The two Oregon Democrats take oil train safety seriously and believe more needs to be done to protect the state’s residents.

Last year, 110 trains passed through Portland each carrying dozens of cars filled with potentially explosive crude oil from North Dakota. They’re moving the same type of oil that was involved in three high-profile explosions since July, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people and leveled part of a town.

The hour-long meeting Wyden organized at Portland Fire & Rescue headquarters demonstrated the senators’ concern about oil train safety and allowed them to hear directly from first responders. But it also reinforced a festering issue for oil trains.

While there’s been a lot of talk about making them safer, there isn’t much to show for it.

Oil still moves with lighter regulation on trains than if it were transported in traditional ways, such as oil tankers. Despite pledges, railroad companies have been slow to provide state officials with information about oil train routes, their frequency and emergency response plans. Rail companies are resisting legislative efforts to increase those disclosures in Washington state.

Ron Wyden talks about safety concerns with oil trainsSen. Ron Wyden discusses his concerns about oil trains currently shipping potentially explosive crude through Oregon. Wyden says reforms are needed to ensure oil train risks are addressed.

“Too many Oregon communities believe that the safety and public disclosure rules for transporting this oil are stuck in a time warp,” Wyden said. “We’re going to have to strike a better balance between information sharing and security.”

Friday’s meeting yielded some suggestions for improvement. Terry Moss, the St. Helens police chief, said 911 dispatchers there don’t know when mile-long oil trains are passing through his community and blocking crossings for minutes at a time. Dispatchers currently can’t help police and fire responders route around trains, Moss said.

But it also struck out on familiar questions, like how long it would take to phase out thousands of old oil tank cars first identified as safety risks in 1991. Rail companies said they didn’t know.

Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has promised an investigation and said he would track oil train safety until reforms are chaptered in law.

“The Senate is going to bird-dog this,” Wyden said. “This is not something that’s just going to be debated for a few weeks – we’re going to stay at this until it gets fixed.”

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KPIX report: Feds Raise Concerns

Repost from KPIX  Channel 5 / CBS News Bay Area

Feds Raise Concerns Over Transporting Crude Oil By Rail

Federal officials have sounded the alarm over shipping crude oil by rail, following a series of accidents. The announcement comes as two Bay Area cities consider proposals to accept the shipments. Christin Ayers reports.

KPIX Report: Detailing a New Danger, 23 Jan 2014
KPIX Report: Detailing a New Danger, 23 Jan 2014

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NTSB: Oil Train Crash Risks ‘Major Loss of Life’

Repost from Associated Press

Jan 23, 12:51 PM EST
AP Photo
AP Photo/Bruce Crummy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Warning that a “major loss of life” could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil, U.S. and Canadian accident investigators urged their governments Thursday to impose new safety rules.

The unusual joint recommendations by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada include better route planning for trains carrying hazardous materials to avoid populated and other sensitive areas.

They also recommended stronger efforts to ensure hazardous cargo is properly classified before shipment, and greater government oversight to ensure rail carriers that transport oil are capable of responding to “worst-case discharges of the entire quantity of product carried on a train.”

Last month an oil train derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., creating intense fires. The accident occurred about a mile outside the town, and no one was hurt. Rail lines run through and alongside the town.

In July, a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, near the U.S. border. Forty-seven people were incinerated and 30 buildings destroyed.

The NTSB noted that crude oil shipments by rail have increased by more than 400 percent since 2005. Some oil trains are more than 100 cars long.

“The NTSB is concerned that major loss of life, property damage and environmental consequences can occur when large volumes of crude oil or other flammable liquids are transported on single train involved in an accident,” NTSB said.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met with oil and railroad executives last week, pressing them to come up voluntary changes in the way oil is transported to increase safety. He asked industry officials to report back to him within 30 days.

Edward Hamberger, president of the railroad association, reaffirmed the freight rail industry’s commitment to moving oil safely by train in a speech Thursday to energy and financial industry executives.

“We share the secretary’s sense of urgency and want to help instill public confidence in rail’s ability to meet the demand for moving more energy resources in this country,” Hamberger said in a summary of his speed provided by the rail association.

U.S. crude oil production is forecast to reach 8.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 – up from 5 million barrels per day in 2008. The increase is overwhelmingly due to the fracking boom in North Dakota’s Bakken region.

U.S. freight railroads transported nearly 234,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, up from just 9,500 in 2008. Early data suggest that rail carloads of crude surpassed 400,000 in 2013, according to the Association of American Railroads.

“The large-scale ship of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”

Freight rail lines across the U.S. frequently run through densely populated areas, from small towns to large cities. Many of the lines were laid out in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The NTSB noted that it is still waiting for final action from government regulators on recommendations made in 2009 regarding improving the safety of tank cars used to transport oil and other hazardous materials.

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