Category Archives: High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs)

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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BNSF, Union Pacific lawsuit: claims California’s new rail hazmat fee illegal

Repost from Hazmat Magazine
[Note: The complaint is available at – RS]

California’s new Rail Hazmat Fee Illegal Claims Railroads

By J Nicholson, August 11, 2016

As reported in Bloomberg BNA, California’s new fee on rail deliveries of crude oil and certain other hazardous materials is illegal, the nation’s two largest railroad companies said in a lawsuit ( BNSF Railway Co. v. California State Board of Equalization, N.D. Cal., No. 16-cv-04311-JCS, 7/29/16 ).

Filed in federal court in San Francisco, the complaint challenges a newly approved regulation requiring railroad companies to collect from their customers $45 for each rail car carrying 25 specified hazardous materials into the state. To be paid to the state’s Board of Equalization, the fee is earmarked to help the state prepare for hazardous material incidents.

The federal ICC Termination Act of 1995, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 preempt the fee implemented under S.B. 84, a budget bill enacted in 2015, the complaint said.

Plaintiffs want an order blocking the state from collecting the fee.


“This hazmat charge defies federal law and economic logic,” the complaint filed July 29 by BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad Co. said. “If exclusive federal jurisdiction over the economic relationship between railroads and their customers means anything, it means that a State cannot establish the charges to be collected for rail transportation, order a railroad to collect them from its customers, and depress rail revenues and customer demand in the process.”

Chemicals Covered by Fee

California’s Office of Emergency Services adopted the fee regulation in June.  Expected to take effect later this year, the fee applies to rail cars containing acetonitrile, certain alcohols, anhydrous ammonia, ammonium hydroxide and calcium hypochlorite.  It also applies to chlorine, certain corrosive liquids, diesel fuel, environmentally hazardous substances, ethanol, gasoline, hydrogen peroxide, liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied gas, methanol, methyl ethyl ketone, nitric acid, petroleum crude oil, phenol, phosphoric acid, potassium hydroxide, propylene, sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, toluene and vinyl acetate.

California’s fee only applies to rail deliveries, no other type of delivery of hazardous materials.  The Interstate Commerce Clause and the federal hazardous materials law forbid states from discriminating against interstate commerce, the complaint said.

Benjamin J. Horwich of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP is representing BNSF Railway.  Union Pacific’s counsel are from Sidley Austin LLP and include Carol Lynn Thompson and in-house attorney Melissa B. Hagan.

A copy of the complaint is available at

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