Category Archives: Rail infrastructure

NPR: In The Pacific Northwest, Oil Train Derailment Highlights Potential Dangers

Heard on All Things Considered
By Conrad Wilson, August 12, 2016 4:31 PM ET

The number of trains carrying oil along the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington could dramatically increase.

There’s a plan to ship more oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota to a proposed oil terminal in southwest Washington state.

An oil train derailment earlier this year has shown the potential danger faced by the region.

TRANSCRIPT________________________________________________

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In the Northwest, the number of trains carrying oil along the Columbia River could dramatically increase, and that’s sharpened a debate over oil train safety in Washington state and Oregon. There’s a plan to ship more oil from the Bakken region to a proposed oil terminal in Washington. As Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, a recent derailment has shown the potential danger the area faces.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: On a Friday in early June, more than 40,000 gallons of Bakken crude spilled in a fiery oil train derailment that burned for 14 hours.

EMILY REED: It is an incredibly scary thing to have something like this happen so – and within our city limits, so close to our school.

WILSON: Emily Reed is the city council president in Mosier, Ore., the town where the derailment took place. About 500 people live in Mosier, and 100 of them were forced to evacuate when the oil train derailed. Reed points out the town’s deep in the Columbia River Gorge, a canyon with steep cliffs, where winds can reach 40 miles per hour during the summer.

REED: If the wind had been as it is today or more, we would have had a fire going up more than four of those cars, all the way through town and wiping out our town.

WILSON: Union Pacific was to blame for the derailment that caused the oil spill, according to a preliminary report by the Federal Railroad Administration. It says Union Pacific didn’t maintain its tracks properly. However, an inspector certified by that same federal agency checked the tracks and gave them the OK a little more than a month before the derailment.

JERRY OLIVER: It was unfortunate for the community.

WILSON: Jerry Oliver is a port commissioner in Vancouver, Wash., and a vocal supporter of what would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country, known as the Vancouver Energy Project.

OLIVER: It’s also unfortunate because it gives a tremendous black eye to anything related to fossil fuels.

WILSON: If built, the terminal would more than double the number of mile-long oil trains traveling along the Columbia River, to about 46 trains per week. Serena Larkin is with the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that opposes the oil terminal. She says until Mosier, oil train derailments were the kind of thing that happened somewhere else.

SERENA LARKIN: Mosier proved that we’re not any different. We are just as vulnerable. We are facing the exact same risks from oil trains that everyone else in North America is facing right now.

WILSON: Despite low oil prices, proponents of the project say the terminal is needed to reduce foreign imports and move domestic oil. For now, it’s relying on oil trains because there aren’t enough pipelines to move oil from North Dakota to the West Coast. Larkin says Mosier’s a turning point in the debate surrounding the Vancouver oil terminal and one that will weigh heavily on whether the project gets permitted.

LARKIN: It showed what the Vancouver oil terminal is really asking Northwest communities to shoulder in risk.

DAN RILEY: I strongly believe that all accidents are preventable.

WILSON: Dan Riley is vice president of government affairs for Tesoro, an oil company behind the project. Since the derailment in Mosier, he says there has been more scrutiny.

RILEY: I think that the criticism is not of the project, but of the rail system.

WILSON: Reilly says Tesoro has also pledged to only allow tank cars with thicker shells and other safety features designed to withstand a derailment into the Vancouver facility. But that’s done little to ease the safety concerns of firefighters and environmental groups. Ultimately, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has the final say on whether the project gets approved. That decision could come later this year. Inslee’s acknowledged the risk oil trains pose. He says the Mosier derailment is among the things he’ll consider when determining whether or not he’ll permit the oil terminal. For NPR News, I’m Conrad Wilson in Vancouver, Wash.

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Gogama fire chief asks for more than DOT-111 tanker phase out

Repost from CBC News, Sudbury
[Editor: Significant quotes: “This week, the federal [Canadian] government announced DOT-111 rail cars will be phased out sooner than expected.” …and “Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, said by 2025 no flammable liquids will be permitted to be transported by rail car.”  – RS]

Gogama fire chief asks for more than DOT-111 tanker phase out

Tankers that carried crude oil in recent derailments will be phased out or scrapped by 2025
Martha Dillman & Casey Stranges, CBC News Jul 27, 2016 8:57 AM ET
By 2025, flammable goods will no longer be permitted to be transported across the Canada.
By 2025, flammable goods will no longer be permitted to be transported across the Canada. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

This week, the federal government announced DOT-111 rail cars will be phased out sooner than expected.

DOT-111 rail cars were involved in the deadly rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec three years ago.

A similar model of rail cars transported crude oil in derailments near the northern Ontario community of Gogama — including two last year that spilled more than 100,000 litres of crude oil.

Although he was critical of CN and their handling of local derailments, Gogama fire chief Mike Benson said he believes rail companies and the federal government want to make it safer to transport goods.

“The financial aspect is what’s holding everything back here,” Benson said, “but certainly, CN recognizes that it’s in their best interest not to have derailments. The federal government certainly understands that.”

In March, Benson said that CN was keeping his people from seeing the derailment site during its investigation, which bred mistrust in the community.

And considering that his community has seen two derailments in a short period, Benson said that phasing out the rail cars is a step in the right direction, but other aspects of rail transportation need to be considered.

“I think the infrastructure, the [rail] track system, the maintenance that they’re doing on the track system, and I think they really have to look at the speeds when [the trains are] going through municipalities,” Benson said.

Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, said by 2025 no flammable liquids will be permitted to be transported by rail car.

Garneau said about 28,000 DOT-111 railcars are still in use, travelling between Canada and the United States. He said the cars may be upgraded, used to transport other goods or sold to be scrapped.

Trains coming from the U.S. will be monitored to ensure they comply with the new rules.

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BENICIA HERALD: City Council hears public comments on crude by rail

Repost from the Benicia Herald Online
[Editor: For Tuesday’s comments on Valero Crude By Rail by Marilyn Bardet and Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Steve Young, skip down to the red bullet.  – RS]

Council hears about crude by rail, water infrastructure and EMS costs Tuesday

By Elizabeth Warnimont, July 7, 2016

BeniciaHerald_logoAt its regular meeting Tuesday, Benicia City Council had a busy meeting with lots of activity. First, the Council recognized the Parks and Community Services Department with a proclamation declaring July, 2016 as “Parks Make Life Better Month,” in conjunction with the statewide designation. Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission member Rich Payne accepted the proclamation from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the City Council.

The Council also confirmed Johanna Ely as Benicia’s sixth poet laureate. Ely spoke briefly about the activities and aims of the laureate program and read a selection of poetry including one titled, “Ode to the Library.”

The final item preceding the council’s consent calendar was a presentation by Assistant Public Works Director Christian Di Renzo on advanced metering infrastructure. Di Renzo provided an overview of the systems currently being considered by the city, outlined the benefits of acquiring a new, electronic metering system, and answered questions posed by the council and a member of the public.

Public comment

Marilyn Bardet
Marilyn Bardet

During the public comment period, Marilyn Bardet showed the council photos of both the aftermath of the recent Mosier, Ore. train derailment and explosion as well as some of the Union Pacific track and refuse currently visible in Benicia that she felt were of concern. One photo showed piles of black powder that Bardet referred to as coke dust that has spilled from hopper cars on railroad tracks near Bayshore Road in Benicia, and one showed warped track rail near the trestle towers, among other photos of concern. Bardet pointed out that the discarded railroad ties in one photo presented a fire hazard due to their creosote content.

Bardet suggested that these items be considered for remediation.

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council
Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young also addressed the Council, as a resident, about the June 23 preliminary findings concerning the recent Oregon crude oil train derailment.

The Federal Railroad Administration report is titled, “Preliminary Factual Findings Report, Derailment of Union Pacific’s Unit Crude Oil Train Transporting Bakken Crude Oil for U.S. Oil, Mosier, Oregon.” Young read from the report’s executive summary. A complete copy of the report is available at the city of Benicia website at ci.benicia.ca.us.

The involved, Dot-111 tank cars, modified to 1232 standards, were equipped with full height head shields and metal jackets with insulation. These cars are commonly referred to as jacketed 1232s. During the derailment, a coupler struck one car, mechanically puncturing it. This puncture allowed crude oil to come in contact with an ignition source, leading to a fire that burned for approximately 14 hours.

The four cars involved in the fire were the punctured car and three additional tank cars, two that had their bottom outlet valves sheared off by the derailment and one car with the gasket melted out from under the manway cover.

The Valero proposal, Young pointed out, calls for the use of non-jacketed 1232 cars. These have no full-height head shields and no jackets with insulation. Another concern is the bottom release valves, a common source of ignition in derailment incidents. These valves shear off, causing a leak and then the subsequent fire. The more advanced tank cars have the valve located on top.

Young reminded the Council that Valero is proposing to buy or lease these tank cars. If safety is truly Valero’s first priority, he suggested, then the added expense of choosing safer cars would certainly seem to be worth any added expense. He asked that the Council consider these issues when it addresses the proposal again in September. He added that an even safer car, the Dot-117, will be required by federal law by the year 2020, and suggested that again, in the interest of safety, Valero might consider opting for that model.

SONET
The Council approved a resolution to accept a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office regarding the Benicia Police Department hiring of a full time Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Enforcement Team (SONET) officer, who would report to the SONET sergeant. The officer’s salary would be provided by the sheriff’s office. A resolution approving the MOU was approved by unanimous vote.

First responder fee overview
Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon presented the Council with a report on the option for the fire department to begin assessing fees for services provided by its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team. The department would collect insurance coverage information from patients at the point of service and hand them a notice stating that they would be contacting their insurance companies on their behalf.

Chief Lydon emphasized that the department would utilize compassionate billing, which means that the insurance portion of any incurred costs would be considered payment in full, and that fees would only be assessed for services and not for transportation, which is currently provided by an outside ambulance company. He also noted that no patients would be billed directly from the fire department, regardless of their insurance coverage status.

Councilmember Tom Campbell expressed concern over the legality of the compassionate billing procedure and Chief Lydon agreed to investigate that topic further, though he noted that Bay Area cities already following that procedure have not yet encountered problems, to his knowledge.

The presentation was intended to be strictly informational. The fire department desired direction from council as to whether or not to pursue the idea, and council indicated that they should proceed.

PG&E exit fees
Councilmember Alan Schwartzman provided the Council with some information pertaining to a proposal to submit a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) fee, essentially an exit fee, charged by Pacific Gas & Electric to customers who have switched to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) providers such as Marin Clean Energy (MCE).

Schwartzman, an MCE board member as it happens, began by reading from the staff report accompanying the City Council agenda, a complete copy of which is available by visiting the city of Benicia web site under Agendas and Minutes, or by calling the city at 746-4200. Schwartzman’s reading is paraphrased here:

MCE has requested that the city of Benicia submit a letter to the CPUC regarding the PCIA charge increase. The CPUC has consistently denied adequate public input to discuss the fee. Earlier this year, PG&E increased this fee by 95 percent. The proposed letter asks the CPUC to provide a venue for public input. The charge is assessed by PG&E on a per-kilowatt basis to cover power generation costs acquired prior to a customer’s change in service provider.

Schwartzman explained that PG&E procures energy based on anticipated need, so that when customers switch away from PG&E, the company is left with the cost burden of the energy it has already acquired, without corresponding reimbursement from customers.

The CPUC approved the increases at a public meeting, but without allowing CCAs access to the data they would need in order to effectively predict the amount of the fee, information which they would like to be able to pass along to their customers. All CCAs are currently working with the CPUC and Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), in order to inform customers how the PCIA fees are calculated and to remain cost competitive.

MCE is asking the city of Benicia to request that the CPUC allow a workshop for public input in order to fairly deal with the PCIA fee.

A motion to approve the submittal of the letter was approved by unanimous vote.

More information
A complete copy of the meeting agenda is available at the city of Benicia website at ci.benicia.ca.us or by calling the city at 746-4200. Minutes of the meeting are typically available about two weeks after the date of the meeting. The next City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, July 19 at Council Chambers, City Hall, 250 East L St., beginning at 7 p.m.

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