Category Archives: Hazardous freight

LATEST DERAILMENT: Baltimore MD hazardous materials train, no spill, no explosion

Repost from the Baltimore Sun

Work begins to clear derailed Howard Tunnel train; expected to take more than 24 hours

BSun_video_2016-06-13By Colin Campbell & Michael Dresser, June 13, 2016, 8:00PM EDT

CSX crews began uncoupling and removing train cars Monday evening from the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, starting the process of clearing a derailment that shut down freight traffic through the city earlier in the day.

The Cumberland-bound train was carrying a volatile, flammable chemical when 13 cars went off the rails Monday morning, but authorities said there were no reports of leaks or injuries.

Work to clear the tunnel was expected to take more than 24 hours.

“This is going to be a long operation,” said Bob Maloney, the city’s emergency management director. “The Fire Department identified there was not an immediate threat to the public. We still consider that to be the case. We’re prepared if that changes.”

The 124-car train went off the rails near the tunnel’s north entrance at the Mount Royal Station in Bolton Hill about 5:45 a.m. Monday, authorities said. But they waited until after the evening rush hour to begin clearing the tracks.

In the event of a chemical spill during the clearing of the derailed cars, authorities said, the Fire Department would use a reverse 911 system to tell residents who live within a quarter-mile radius of the incident to shelter in place, officials said.

“Our meters show there’s no immediate danger,” Assistant Fire Chief Mark Wagner said.

Authorites are investigating the cause of the derailment. It started about one-third of the way through the train at car 47, one of the 18 that were carrying loads, authorities said.

The front of the train had entered the tunnel when the cars derailed just north of the tunnel, Maloney said. The derailed cars continued into the tunnel, where they stopped, he said.

The Philadelphia-to-Cumberland run “is a regular, routine route for this train,” said Brian Hammock, resident vice president of CSX.

Hammock said he did not know when the tunnel was last inspected. He said CSX has full confidence in all of its tracks throughout the city.

A day after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Wagner called the FBI to help investigate the derailment. “With everything going on, especially in Orlando, I asked the FBI to be here because we want to rule out foul play,” Wagner said.

Investigators determined it was not caused intentionally.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said his department, too, was assisting. “We want to be on the ground at the very, very beginning in case a twist or turn occurs,” Davis said. “Twists and turns have not occurred, but we’re nonetheless involved right now in this critical incident.”

Several roads were closed near the tunnel Monday. They included a stretch of Howard Street between North Avenue and John Street.

The Maryland Transit Administration announced it was suspending light rail service between the Camden Yards and North Avenue stations after 10 p.m. Monday, and would use buses to ferry passengers between the two stops until midnight.

Freight rail traffic was stopped in the area Monday. The line running through the tunnel is used only by CSX freight trains; Amtrak and MARC service was not affected.

The Howard Street Tunnel is considered to be the most troublesome bottleneck for north-south freight train traffic on the East Coast.

For many years, transportation planners have discussed replacing the tunnel, but the estimated cost — $1 billion to $3 billion — has stymied progress.

In April, the Hogan administration and CSX announced a stripped-down, $425 million plan to expand the tunnel so that double-stacked trains could pass through.The state and the railroad pledged to kick in $270 million for the project and applied for a $155 million federal grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FASTLANE program.

Matthew A. Clark, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the state is waiting for a decision on its application. Federal officials are expected to announce awards this summer.

Since the spectacular tunnel derailment and fire of 2001 halted freight traffic in the corridor for almost a week, there have been a series of smaller-scale incidents along the approaches to the tunnels.

In 2005, a three-car derailment near the site of the 2001 incident prompted then-Mayor Martin O’Malley to call for a federal inspection.

Two years later, 12 cars derailed near M&T Bank Stadium. The next month, a CSX tanker left the rails in Locust Point.

Deadlier CSX derailments have occurred elsewhere in Maryland. In August 2012, two young women who were on railroad property in Ellicott City were killed when a train went off the tracks and spilled a load of coal on them. In 2000, a train left the tracks in the Western Maryland town of Bloomington, crashed into a home and killed a 15-year-old boy.

The last major CSX derailment in Maryland took place in May 2014, when three locomotives and 11 cars left the tracks while crossing a culvert blocked by debris in Prince George’s County. There were no injuries, but the mishap caused more than $300,000 in damage, federal records show.

Environmental advocates and city residents have long voiced concern about freight trains carrying hazardous chemicals through and underneath Baltimore’s neighborhoods. The City Council held a two-hour public hearing last summer on the safety of shipping crude oil through Baltimore.

Keisha Allen, president of the Westport Neighborhood Association, said her home is within a block of freight tracks — well within the “blast zone,” should a derailment cause an explosion.

“That’s the issue, the fact that it’s highly flammable,” she said.

Allen said she and her neighbors want the city to require CSX and Norfolk Southern to disclose what’s being shipped on the freight trains and when.

“There needs to be a clear indication of what’s coming through,” she said. “If it’s something that flammable, that volatile, there needs to be notification, at a minimum. … We would sleep better knowing there’s a process.”

Lawrence Mann, a Washington attorney who specializes in railroad liability cases, said the industry has generally been lax about track inspections.

“The railroads have either fired or furloughed thousands of track inspectors around the country,” he said. “They just don’t have the manpower to do the job that’s required.”

The country’s major railroads spent $28 billion on capital expenditures and maintenance in 2014, the Association of American Railroads reported Monday.

That investment increased to $30 billion last year and is expected to hover around $26 billion this year, said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the trade industry group.

That has increased from the roughly $20 billion in annual infrastructure investment between 1983 and 2011, as carriers work to keep up with customer demands for reliability and service, including new double-stack containers, he said.

The investments have also improved safety, Hamberger said. The association recently reported a 79 percent decline in train accidents since 1980.

“A well-maintained railroad is a safer railroad,” he said. “The fact that we can spend this amount of money to put in new tracks, all-new technologies, and maintain it is really a point that needs to be driven home.”

He said some carriers have been reluctant to participate in public-private partnerships because public money typically comes with constraints and major projects often get bogged down in lengthy public permitting procedures.

“It’s never fast enough, but we’re trying to do the best we can,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Natalie Sherman contributed to this article.

DERAILMENT: Washington DC – leaking three different chemicals

Repost from the Washington Post

CSX train derails in Northeast Washington DC, leaking three different hazardous chemicals and disrupting travel

By Faiz Siddiqui, Luz Lazo and Michael Smith, May 1, 2016 6:31 PM
Train_Derailment_Washington-DC_2016-05-01 01
May 1, 2016 The CSX train derailed Sunday at 6:40 a.m., spilling sodium hydroxide from one of the cars. Thirteen cars of the 175- car train left the tracks. DC Fire and EMS via AP

A CSX freight train derailed in Northeast Washington early Sunday, spilling hazardous chemicals along a busy rail corridor. The wreck stranded some residents away from their homes, forced the closure of a Metro station and snarled traffic as emergency personnel sought to contain the leaks and clear the wreckage.

Officials said 14 rail cars of the 175-car train left the tracks. A rail engineer and a conductor had been aboard the train but were accounted for, authorities said. No evacuations were ordered, and no one was injured.

The cause of the wreck is under investigation, and the Federal Railroad Administration was at the scene Sunday.

Red Line service was suspended between Metro’s NoMa-Gallaudet and Brookland stations, and the Rhode Island Avenue station was closed. At least six blocks of Rhode Island Avenue NE were closed for much of the day.

The derailment occurred about 6:40 a.m. as the train was passing through Washington from Cumberland, Md., en route to Hamlet, N.C., CSX said. The crash site was near Ninth Street NE and Rhode Island Avenue NE. CSX said 94 cars were carrying mixed freight and 81 were empty.

The derailment, about 70 cars into the train, spilled half the liquid contents of a 15,500- gallon tanker containing sodium hydroxide, D.C. Fire and EMS Deputy Chief John Donnelly said. The liquid spilled onto the tracks and seeped into the ground below it.

May 1, 2016 Officials walk on the Metropolitan Branch Trail — closed to the public — as they survey the scene of a CSX train derailment. Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post

Officials said there were no air- or water-quality issues at the scene.

CSX spokeswoman Melanie Cost said the company did not have a timeline on the cleanup or restoration of the tracks.

“First let me apologize to the community for the inconvenience and the alarm that the derailment caused this morning,” she said. “Every decision that we’re making is focused on the safety of the responders and the community.”

CSX described sodium hydroxide as a chemical “used to produce various household products, including paper, soap and detergents.” It is a chemical component similar to bleach or Drano, officials said. Two other rail cars were leaking chemicals that officials described as less hazardous.

By mid-morning, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the chemical leak was contained. But more detailed inspections revealed further leaks, according to CSX. In addition to the tank car leaking sodium hydroxide, another tank car was found to be leaking calcium chloride, described as “non-hazardous,” while a third was leaking ethanol “slowly from the base of a valve,” CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said.

The wreckage was visible from high-rise apartments near the crash site: A zigzag pattern of mangled tankers and overturned freight cars sat beside the tracks below the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. A set of wheels, still intact but missing its freight car, sat upright beside the track bed.

Emergency personnel work at the scene after a CSX freight train derailed in Washington on Sunday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Weekdays, the affected tracks are shared by Amtrak, MARC and CSX trains. The tracks also run parallel to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, popular with cyclists and runners. On Sunday, the trail was closed near the site of the derailment, and officials said it would remain closed indefinitely.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said barring any unforeseen circumstances, Red Line service would be restored Sunday night.

Stessel said CSX was working to upright a rail car that was leaking ethanol. When the leak is mitigated, he said, the Metro tracks would be turned back over to the agency, which would run test trains and probably restore service soon thereafter.

If for any reason CSX is not able to turn over the scene, Stessel said, “that could affect service into the morning.”

MARC announced major service disruptions for its Brunswick Line on Monday because of the derailment. Its trains will run as far south as Silver Spring, where Metro will accept passengers at no charge to continue their commutes into the District. In addition, the Amtrak line from Washington to Chicago will not run Monday, but the Northeast Corridor lines will run as normal, officials said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effects of exposure to sodium hydroxide can include irritated eyes, burning skin, loss of hair and swelling of the lungs. The odorless solid is white or colorless and is usually in flakes, beads or a granular form. Sodium hydroxide is especially dangerous when mixed with water, because the toxin when wet creates heat that can ignite flammable products. It was raining heavily Sunday morning near the crash site.

Donnelly said the amount that leaked did not put District residents at risk.

“The fumes should not cause you any problems, and you should not be able to smell them anywhere else,” he said.

In recent years, Washington residents and elected officials have voiced concerns about rail safety and the risk of having freight trains pass through residential neighborhoods and the seat of the federal government.

Residents of Navy Yard, a formerly industrial neighborhood that is now densely populated, fought a CSX plan to reconstruct the 110-year-old Virginia Avenue Tunnel in Southeast, a key piece of the region’s rail infrastructure that is just a mile away from the U.S. Capitol. CSX is now in the midst of the $170 million project, which includes twin tunnels built to allow for double-stacked trains.

One of the most hotly debated projects in recent years, the tunnel project revived concerns about the safety and security of the city’s railways, prompting the D.C. Council two years ago to allocate funding to conduct a comprehensive rail study that would provide an assessment of all rail service: passenger, commuter and freight.

Some residents say they fear they are at a greater risk of train derailments and that once the tunnel project is completed, CSX will increase the transportation of crude oil and other hazardous materials through the area.

CSX says it rarely transports crude oil through the District and does not carry hazardous substances such as compressed flammable gases and toxic and radioactive materials through the city.

In 2009, rainwater leaking into the Virginia Avenue Tunnel from the Southeast Freeway and Virginia Avenue weakened the earthen floor. A split rail caused the derailment of two locomotives and 13 loaded gondola cars transporting scrap metal. And in the spring of 2014, a CSX freight train derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sending rail cars and burning crude spilling into the James River.

Monte Edwards, a trustee with the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, which serves as a watchdog on transportation and urban planning issues, said Sunday’s spill raised renewed concerns about the viability of shared freight and passenger tracks in the District.

Speaking for himself, he said the spill showed CSX’s disregard for rail safety and inspections in the District.

“This was a hydroxide that they spilled this time. Those are nasty things coming through,” he said, reflecting on what could have happened had the chemical spilled just a short distance south, near the Capitol.

“A spill like that [one] that just occurred here in Northeast, [if] that would occur near a grate or an entrance to a Metro station, it would flood the Metro station,” he said.

The spill underscores the need for the District to devise a comprehensive rail plan, similar to state plans required under the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, he said. The District Department of Transportation says it expects a rail plan to be completed as early as this summer.

“We would know what’s coming through,” Edwards said. “We would have inspectors. We would have rail safety officers.”

“We have said all along that derailments are very real and these trains are carrying hazardous materials,” said Maureen Cohen Harrington, a Navy Yard resident and member of DCSafeRails, the organization fighting against CSX transporting hazardous materials through the neighborhood. “And what happened today demonstrated that, and we are well aware that this could have been far worse.”

Peter Hermann, Perry Stein and Ashley Halsey III contributed to this report.