Category Archives: Hazardous cargo transparency

Mayor wants to know when trains carry hazardous goods through his town

Repost from the Vancouver Sun

Mayor wants to know when trains carry hazardous goods through his town

By Glenda Luymes, September 21, 2017 8:04 PM PDT

The train tracks running through Vanderhoof helped build the community on the banks of the Nechako River. But some fear they could one day ruin it.

When local politicians meet for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver next week, they’ll consider a resolution drafted by the District of Vanderhoof calling on Transport Canada to order railways to provide “up-to-the-minute” information on hazardous goods being transported through their communities.

The information would enable first responders to safely address derailments and spills, explained Vanderhoof chief administrative officer Tom Clement.

“If we don’t know what trains are carrying, how can we respond?” he asked.

While Canadian railways are required to provide reports on what trains carry, they are usually produced several months after the fact, leaving municipalities to guess what might be rolling through town on any given day.

According to a report by Canadian National Railway (which operates the line through Vanderhoof), shipments of dangerous goods accounted for three per cent of the total CN shipments in B.C. in 2016. Liquefied petroleum gases, diesel fuel and sodium hydroxide made up more than half of all dangerous shipments.

Like many, Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen was shocked by the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. On July 6, 2013, a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil operated by the United States-based Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway derailed in the small Quebec town. Fire and several explosions killed 47 people.

But it was a smaller incident — a minor derailment near Vanderhoof several years ago — that first got the mayor thinking about the safety of his community.

“Someone from the Prince George press called our fire chief to ask about the accident. They wanted to know what the cars were carrying. We had no idea,” he said.

With a volunteer fire department made up of “local dads and moms,” Thiessen realized a significant incident could endanger first responders, as well as the community at large.

“CN is a large company. They should be able to tell us day-by-day what’s in a train as it leaves Prince George,” he said.

Thiessen said he was told CN’s closest dangerous goods officer was located in Edmonton, meaning “our volunteers would be the first on scene.”

A CN spokesperson referred Postmedia to the Railway Association of Canada.

A statement from the association said its members work with municipalities and the federal government to achieve a “workable process” to ensure information about dangerous goods traffic is available. A mobile app allows first responders to access information about railcar contents so “they can make informed decisions in the event of a rail emergency.”

Thiessen said the process requires first responders to obtain a code from the side of a damaged train car, which might put them at risk if the cars are leaking hazardous substances.

“We need a better process,” he said.

But while the mayor is concerned about safety, he also recognizes the vital role the railway plays in his community.

“I’m in Vanderhoof as a result of the railway,” he said.

Thiessen’s grandfather settled in the community west of Prince George in 1942 to take advantage of the opportunities the railway presented. Thirty years later, as a young man, Thiessen had a part-time job unloading the railcars that carried lumber out of town.

These days, there are more trains coming through Vanderhoof, he said, but fewer stop. There’s also fear that what they might be carrying could someday undo all the good the railway has done.

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SACRAMENTO BEE: State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

By Tony Bizjak, July 22, 2016 6:00AM

HIGHLIGHTS
• California officials say the state isn’t prepared to handle hazardous materials spills
• A new $45 fee on every rail car carrying dangerous substances will help beef up spill response

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Train safety provisions included in U.S. transportation bill

Repost from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Train safety provisions included in U.S. transportation bill

By Crocker Stephenson, Dec. 2, 2015
 Bakken oil trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee at 133 W. Oregon St., Milwaukee. A federal bill includes provisions requiring railroads to share safety information regarding trains and bridges with local officials.
Bakken oil trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee at 133 W. Oregon St., Milwaukee. A federal bill includes provisions requiring railroads to share safety information regarding trains and bridges with local officials. Image credit: Journal Sentinel files

The mammoth five-year federal transportation bill that lawmakers hope to send to President Barack Obama early next week includes provisions, championed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), that would require railroads to share critical safety information with local communities.

“This legislation provides the transparency we’ve been begging and asking Canadian Pacific railroad for,” Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy said during a news conference Wednesday outside a fire station at 100 W. Virginia St.

“It isn’t too much to ask a company that is using our public right of way to let us know if their bridges are safe and secure,” he said.

As if to illustrate Murphy’s point, a Canadian Pacific train pulling oil tankers rumbled across the bridge over S. 1st St. a few blocks to the north.

Milwaukee is in a rail corridor that ferries crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in metropolitan Chicago and beyond.

Since spring, Murphy and other city officials have been sparring with Canadian Pacific over its refusal to share with city engineers the results of its inspection of a rusty-looking bridge crossing W. Oregon St. at S. 1st St.

Canadian Pacific officials have insisted the bridge is safe, but they announced in August that the railroad plans to encase 13 of the bridge’s steel columns in concrete to protect them from further corrosion.

“Five to six months ago, the Milwaukee Common Council asked for information on bridges,” Ald. Terry Witkowski said. “We were greeted with silence.”

“With the stroke of a pen, the ball game has changed,” he said.

Concern over trains hauling potentially explosive fuel tankers through the heart of Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward increased last month when two petroleum-filled trains derailed in Wisconsin in a single week.

“Wisconsin first-responders should be applauded for their reaction to these derailments,” Baldwin said. “But railroad companies need to do more.”

According to Baldwin’s office, the bipartisan transportation bill contains several provisions pushed by the senator:

    • Transparency: A provision would require railroads to provide local officials with a public version of the most recent bridge inspection report
    • Real-time reporting: Currently, information about hazardous materials being carried through communities is available to first-responders only after an incident has occurred. A provision would require that information to be shared before a train carrying hazardous materials arrives in their jurisdiction.

“The thing we need is information,” Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing said. “So the more transparent our haulers become, the more prepared we can be.”

“Having the city have this information gives the Department of Public Works, our city engineer, access to information so that we can make an evaluation, so we can work with railroads to make sure we have safe rail crossings,” Mayor Tom Barrett said.

The roughly $300 billion transportation bill would also require the Department of Transportation to initiate a study on the appropriate level of insurance railroads hauling hazardous insurance should have, and it would ask the DOT to require that railroads improve their plans for responding to catastrophic oil discharges.

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