Category Archives: High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs)

Oil Train Safety Rules Getting Rolled Back By Trump Adminstration

Repost from KUOW Public Radio, Seattle, WA

Oil Train Safety Rules Getting Rolled Back By Trump Adminstration

By Courtney Flatt, December 6, 2017
<p>Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon, by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend.</p>
Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon, by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend. Photo: EMILY SCHWING

The Trump administration is rolling back a requirement for trains carrying highly explosive liquids — like the oil trains that run through the Columbia River Gorge en route to Northwest refineries.

The 2015 rule was supposed to make these hazardous trains more safe, following a number of derailments. But that was under President Obama, Now, President Trump’s Department of Transportation says railroads with trains carrying highly flammable liquids will not have to update their braking systems.

“The costs of this mandate would exceed three-fold the benefits it would produce,” the DOT said in a statement — that’s according to studies by the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Obama-era regulations required railroad companies to install electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021. Those new systems were supposed to help prevent fiery crashes, like last year’s derailment in Mosier, Oregon. ECP brakes are supposed to brake faster because they signal instantaneously throughout the train.

The current industry-standard air brake technology has been in use for more than a century and had been involved in the deadly Lac Megantic derailment in 2013.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley criticized the decision.

“Oil trains are rolling explosion hazards, and as we’ve seen all too many times—and all too recently in Mosier—it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ oil train derailments will occur. Degrading oil train safety requirements is a huge step backward and one that puts our land, homes, and lives at risk,” Merkley said in a statement.

Industry groups applauded the decision. Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, called the rollback a “rational decision.”

“While we support the use of improved safety technologies, (electronically controlled pneumatic) isn’t an improvement on other technologies currently in use, and would have imposed substantial costs to shippers,” Thompson said in a news release.

Conservation groups in the Northwest said the rollback was frustrating, but unsurprising. Dan Serres is the conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper.

“We’re definitely frustrated that the Trump administration is weakening standards that are not strong enough to begin with,” Serres said. “We saw that with the Moiser derailment, potentially if there was a better braking system in place, we wouldn’t have seen so many cars come off the tracks.”

Serres said his group is now more committed to stopping oil terminal construction in the Northwest, if the federal government isn’t “holding the rail industry’s feet to the fire to improve the safety of these shipments.”

 

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Spokane City Council Nixes Proposed Oil And Coal Train Ballot Measure

Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting
[Editor: Background: City proposes fining railroad.  Also, BNSF, Union Pacific lawsuit. – RS]

Spokane City Council Nixes Proposed Oil And Coal Train Ballot Measure

By Emily Schwing, Northwest News Network | Aug. 16, 2016 4:45 p.m., updated 6:56 p.m.
 In June, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, Oregon.
In June, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, Oregon. Northwest News Network, Emily Schwing

A measure that was added to the November ballot less than a month ago would have imposed fines on rail cars transporting fossil fuels through the heart of Spokane. On Monday night, the city council opted to withdraw it.

Council President Ben Stuckart said weeks of further review raised questions about whether the measure he co-sponsored could stand, were it to face a legal challenge.

“I don’t think that’s a good use of the citizen’s dollars,” he said.

In the weeks since the measure originally passed, Stuckart said a conversation about how to more safely transport fossil fuels has become a region-wide.

“A couple other cities have contacted us and they’ve suggested that we form a regional group here in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington to try to work through these issues and see how we can affect state and national policy,” Stuckart said.

The measure itself was prompted by a number of accidents involving oil trains since 2012. In June, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

On a near-daily basis, oil trains pass through the heart of Spokane past two major hospitals, a handful of schools and across an aquifer that serves nearly half a million people.

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Feds award $1.1M in Minnesota for “Positive Train Control” upgrade

Repost from the Minneapolis Star Tribune

Feds award $1.1M to Twin Cities & Western railroad for safety upgrade

New safety system would automatically stop trains and prevent collisions.
By Jim Spencer Star Tribune AUGUST 12, 2016 — 6:46PM

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison announced the grant Friday.

The money will put in place and test a positive train control system, a technology that stops trains automatically to avoid crashes.

The controls are supposed to go on mainline routes that carry hazardous materials or commuters. They use sensors to remotely monitor speed and movement in order to head off train-to-train collisions and derailments.

By federal law, American railroads have until December 2018 to install the safety system on roughly 70,000 miles of track.

Klobuchar, Franken, McCollum and Ellison have been active in rail safety promotion because of the potential risks of derailments or crashes involving trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota across Minnesota.

Some of those shipments go through the heart of the Twin Cities. Oil train traffic has increased markedly in recent years along with the North Dakota oil boom.

“With increased freight train traffic on our rail lines, ensuring the safety of communities along rail routes remains a top priority,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

Franken said in a statement that he has talked to “many community leaders who share my concern for the safety of railcars that travel through our Minnesota communities, and I’m glad that the Transportation Department is listening.”

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