Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation – Senate passes emergency-responders training bill
May 13, 2016
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would enable first responders to be trained in handling crude-oil train derailments and other hazardous incidents, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) announced yesterday.
The bill would establish a public-private council that combines emergency responders, federal agencies and leading experts to review training and best practices for first responders. The council would provide Congress with recommendations on how to address first responders’ safety needs with increased railway safety challenges, according to a press release issued by Heitkamp’s office.
“First responders — the vast majority of whom are volunteers in North Dakota — selflessly put their lives on the line and run toward danger to protect our families,” said Heitkamp. “That’s exactly what happened in Casselton one December afternoon in 2013, when responders ran toward the black smoke of a train derailment that could be seen for miles — and it’s what our country has continued to see following oil train derailments throughout the country.”
More than 40 percent of North Dakota crude oil is transported by rail.
The bipartisan legislation passed unanimously in the Senate. A companion bill has been introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
Retired Templeton fire chief: Do not understate risk of oil trains
• Despite training, emergency responders may not be able to prevent hundreds of fatalities in a derailment
• Highly flammable Canadian crude more dangerous than California crude
• Project should be denied if safety requirements can’t be enforced
By Greg O’Sullivan, October 23, 2015
Columnist John Peschong in his Aug. 23 column “Local responders are up to task” describes the extensive training and dedication of our emergency responders. This (in his opinion) means “emergency medical technicians and fire crews stand ready to protect us from any disaster,” including an oil train derailment and fire.
Having retired from the fire service after 38 years in the profession, as well as being a qualified hazmat technician and hazmat incident commander, I feel I can speak with greater authority about the ability of local responders to respond to an oil train derailment involving a fire and/or spill.
Mr. Peschong is correct when he states that many hours and dollars have been spent to train our emergency responders and they are capable of mitigating most emergencies. What he doesn’t explain is that an oil train derailment involving multicar fires in a highly populated area could result in hundreds of deaths, despite herculean efforts of first responders. For the incident commander of a hazmat incident, the team’s first responsibility is the safety of the public and our responders. In the case of a multiple car derailment involving fire, evacuation would be the highest priority.
If a life hazard exists, efforts focus on fire suppression to protect rescue operations. The area is isolated, and mutual aid as well as other authorities are notified to assist in the emergency. If evacuation has been successful and no further life hazard exists, then, and only then, could tactical decisions be made concerning whether or not fire suppression should be attempted, or whether the fire should be allowed to burn. It should be noted the closest Type 1 or 2 hazmat team is in Santa Barbara County.
Phillips 66 recently delivered beautifully designed surveys to some area residents expounding the virtues of its oil train project. But nowhere does it explain that approval of the project means five oil trains per week coming through San Luis Obispo County, each train pulling 80 tank cars filled with highly flammable Canadian crude oil. (That would be 500 million gallons per year.)
Al Fonzi in his Oct. 9 Viewpoint “Fear campaign against Phillips” declares that the tar sands crude oil (dilbit) Phillips 66 wants to transport from Canada is no more dangerous than the California crude from San Ardo that has been transported through the county by train for several decades. Mr. Fonzi bases this claim on the fact that the Canadian crude and San Ardo crude have similar vapor pressures.
Vapor pressure is only one measure of the hazard of a liquid. Fire professionals are far more familiar with flash point as the main determinant of flammability of a liquid. The flash point of California crude, like that found in San Ardo, ranges 199 to 232 degrees Fahrenheit (MSDS Product 94-0007-02). In contrast, the flashpoint of Canadian crude is reported to be minus 30 degrees (MSDS Heavy Crude/Diluent mix), comparable to gasoline at minus 42 degrees, both of which are considered highly flammable.
An oil train derailment involving multicar fires in a highly populated area could result in hundreds of deaths, despite herculean efforts of first responders.
Suppose a derailment involves only a spill. What would a single car rupture spilling 30,000 gallons of oil in the Salinas River do to the water supply of Atascadero, Templeton and Paso Robles? The train tracks parallel the Salinas. Mr. Fonzi says opponents of the oil trains are running a “cynical campaign to terrorize the public.”
It is unfair and inaccurate to label the many organizations and individuals who oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project as uninformed, fearful citizens. Opponents of the oil train project include such well-respected bodies as the League of Women Voters, National Education Association and 40 public bodies including city councils, school boards, fire chiefs’ organizations and elected officials, as well as the editorial board of The Tribune.
The final Environmental Impact Report is nearing completion, which will bring the project before the Planning Commission. Because of the serious local and regional safety issues of the project, I agree with and support the League of Women Voters that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors must “insist upon full and enforceable mitigations” for all risks, and that if these safety requirements cannot be enforced by the county, the project should be denied.
As a retired fire service professional, I believe protecting the safety of communities along the rail corridor outweighs any perceived benefit of the project. Don’t be misled by PR firms (similar to the one John Peschong represents) who are paid to spin the topic for Phillips 66. Please take the time to get the facts for yourself.
Greg O’Sullivan spent 38 years in the fire service, including 12 years as Templeton fire chief. After retiring, he served four years on the Board of Directors of the Templeton Community Services District.
Some states are looking to prevent more derailments and spills, but the freight industry doesn’t want more regulation.
By Daniel C. Vock | August 26, 2015
When it comes to regulating railroads, states usually let the federal government determine policy. But mounting concerns about the safety of oil trains are making states bolder. In recent months, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state have taken steps to strengthen oversight of the freight rail industry.
The three join several other states — mostly led by Democrats — in policing oil shipments through inspection, regulation and even lawsuits. Washington, for example, applied a 4-cent-per-barrel tax on oil moved by trains to help pay for clean-ups of potential spills. The new law also requires freight rail companies to notify local emergency personnel when oil trains would pass through their communities.
“This means that at a time when the number of oil trains running through Washington is skyrocketing, oil companies will be held accountable for playing a part in preventing and responding to spills,” said Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee when signing the measure this spring.
The flurry of state activity comes in response to a huge surge in the amount of oil transported by rail in the last few years. Oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and nearby states must travel by train to refineries and ports because there are few pipelines or refineries on the Great Plains. The type of oil found in North Dakota is more volatile — that is, more likely to catch on fire — than most varieties of crude.
Public concerns about the safety of trains carrying oil have increased with the derailments in places like Galena, Ill.; Mt. Carbon, W. Va.; Aliceville, Ala.; Lynchburg, Va.; Casselton, N.D.; and especially Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died in 2013.
Federal regulators responded to these incidents by requiring railroads to upgrade their oil train cars, to double check safety equipment on unattended trains, and to tell states when and where oil trains would be passing through their borders. This last requirement was hard won. This summer, the Federal Railroad Administration tried to encourage states to sign nondisclosure agreements with railroads about the location of oil trains. After several states balked, the agency relented.
California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Oklahoma have all signed nondisclosure agreements, while Idaho, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have refused to do so, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
A Maryland judge earlier this month ruled against two rail carriers, Norfolk Southern and CSX, that wanted to block the state’s environmental agency from releasing details of their oil shipments. The railroads have until early next month to decide whether to appeal.
“The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret,” wrote reporter Curtis Tate of McClatchy, one of the news organizations that requested the records, “but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.”
Many states want this information so that fire departments and other emergency personnel can prepare for a potential derailment. California passed a law last year imposing clean-up fees on oil shipped by rail. The railroad industry challenged the law in court, but a judge ruled this summer that the lawsuit was premature. Minnesota passed a similar law last year, and New York added rail inspectors to cope with the increase in oil train traffic. A 1990 federal law lets states pass their own rules to prepare for oil spills, as long as those rules are at least as rigorous as federal regulations.
In Pennsylvania, which handles 60 to 70 oil trains a week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked a University of Delaware expert to help to improve safety of oil trains traveling through the state. The professor, Allan Zarembski, produced 27 recommendations for the state and the railroads. He called on the state to improve its inspection processes of railroad tracks, particularly for tracks leading into rail yards, side tracks and refineries that often handle oil trains. The professor also encouraged the state to coordinate emergency response work with the railroads and local communities.
Zarembski’s suggestions for the railroads focused on how they should test for faulty tracks, wheel bearings and axles. Most major derailments in recent years were caused by faulty track or broken equipment, not human error, he noted in his report.
Put politics aside and think safety first when it comes to oil trains
Risks associated with increased oil train activity are too great; supervisors must act to protect our communities from disaster
VIEWPOINT, By Jan Marx, July 17, 2015
Like other residents of the city of San Luis Obispo, I am proud of our beautiful 165-year-old city, dubbed the “Happiest City in North America.” Residents may be happy about our city, but we are not happy about the risks proposed by the Phillips 66 rail spur expansion project.
Why? As we’ve all seen on the news, when trains carrying this oil derail, they don’t just spill — they explode, and burn for days. Those derailments and resulting hazardous air and soil contamination have increased as oil-by-rail transport has increased. The Phillips 66 project would result in five or more additional trains a week bearing highly volatile crude from far away oil fields, traveling through our communities to Nipomo, each train approximately a mile in length. Residents, to put it mildly, do not want these oil trains traveling through our city.
In response to concerned city residents , the San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously to write a letter to the county Board of Supervisors opposing this project and asking them to protect the safety, health and economic well-being of our city. The city of San Luis Obispo is honored to lead the way in our county and stand alongside a growing number of cities, counties and public agencies throughout the state, allied in opposition to this project.
The increased risk posed by this project is a major statewide issue and is a threat to every community with a railroad running through it. However, this project poses a uniquely extreme risk to the city of San Luis Obispo, made even more extreme by our unique topography.
Just to our north, in the open space immediately behind Cal Poly, is the mountainous Cuesta Grade area, which Union Pacific Railroad has rated as one of the state’s highest risk areas for derailments.
This unspoiled and beautiful part of our greenbelt, full of sensitive species and habitat, with the railroad tracks and Highway 101 snaking through it, is also rated by Cal Fire as being at extreme risk for wildfire. The current extreme drought has created a tinder-dry situation, and when under Santa Ana-downdraft conditions, our city is often downwind from Cuesta Grade.
Were there to be an oil car derailment in the Cuesta Grade or Cal Poly area, the campus — with its 20,000 students and 10,000 staff members — as well as the densely populated downtown and northern part of our city would be extremely difficult to defend from the ensuing oil fire.
However, that is not the only area of our city that would be threatened, because the railroad tracks go right through the heart of our city, putting most of our residents, visitors, businesses and structures at risk.
Our emergency responders are simply not funded, trained or equipped to deal with a disaster of the magnitude threatened by this project. If there were an oil disaster in our community, we taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for firefighting, hazardous material cleanup and repair of infrastructure. The damage to our lives, our environment and our economy would be devastating.
Like all businesses, Union Pacific and Phillips 66 desire to increase profits for their shareholders. But the problem is that these businesses wish to do so by vastly increasing our community’s risk of exposure to an oil-train disaster. Are we going to be forced to bear that risk? Is there no way to protect ourselves?
The answer to that question is up to the Board of Supervisors. As the permitting agency, the county Board of Supervisors is in a uniquely crucial position. It is the only entity in the county with the land use authority to deny the permits, which are needed for the project to proceed.
County residents have the opportunity to urge the Board of Supervisors to reject this project. They should do so for the sake of the health, safety and welfare of everyone who lives or works within the “oil car blast zone,” approximately a half-mile on each side of the railroad tracks.
The supervisors have the opportunity to put political differences aside and make the safety and wellbeing of their constituents their first priority by rejecting this project. Hopefully, they will rise to the challenge.