Category Archives: Rail Safety

Government deregulation without limits – FAA comes under criticism

Repost from The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR
[Quote: “When something bad happens, the government will take action — but over time those regulations and requirements wind up being dropped, reduced or delayed. The 2017 fatal Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, the 2016 oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2008 financial crisis and countless other events could have been prevented.”]

Deregulating? DeFazio’s watching

Posted Mar 27, 2019 at 12:01 AM

The Boeing 737 jet crashes raise troubling questions that go far beyond one company’s safety record and one federal agency’s watchdog role.

The history of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft suggests it is an example of how the government’s regulation-and-oversight pendulum has swung too far. The Federal Aviation Administration has lacked both the money and the inclination to adequately oversee aircraft development, instead relying heavily on companies to do their own testing.

Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio is demanding answers. The Springfield Democrat chairs the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee’s investigative staff is doing research, and DeFazio then plans to hold hearings.

“This is really, really raising questions about the FAA as a watchdog,” he said in a meeting with The Register-Guard editorial board.

A faulty sensor is being investigated as one cause, and Boeing is working on a software fix. The two-sensor system was developed as a safety feature to prevent a plane from stalling. But it appears the failure of just one sensor can send the aircraft into a powerful, possibly irreversible dive unless the pilots override the system within 40 seconds, according to a New York Times report this week.

DeFazio promises a tenacious investigation. Among the questions are why the system was designed this way, whether the aircraft was unsafely rushed to market, and why the FAA and Boeing did not require extensive retraining of pilots.

“This is the first time Boeing has put in a system that took over the plane automatically,” he said. “And they didn’t think they needed to tell people about it — because it’s different from any other Boeing plane ever made?

“Obviously, maybe not the best idea.”

For years, the FAA has lacked sufficient inspectors and has outsourced much of that responsibility to the manufacturers. But the FAA is not unique. We now have a government that relies on the honor, integrity and self-supervision of the industries it regulates.

When something bad happens, the government will take action — but over time those regulations and requirements wind up being dropped, reduced or delayed. The 2017 fatal Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, the 2016 oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2008 financial crisis and countless other events could have been prevented.

“It’s repeated time and time again,” DeFazio said. “There are limits to deregulation, which in many cases have been exceeded.”

Oregon has its own history of unwatchful eyes. The Cover Oregon health insurance fiasco could have been averted through closer, more-knowledgeable oversight and insistence on stronger testing of the technology throughout its development. Better oversight — not to mention much-better planning in the first place — might have saved the state from wasting millions of dollars in the Highway 20 reconstruction between the valley and the coast.

Each time, government and the public vow to learn from these lessons. Then we relax and we forget.

When DeFazio and his congressional colleagues find the answers they are seeking, our government should heed them.


    Rail industry phasing out DOT-111 tank cars involved in derailments ahead of deadline

    Repost from The Jamestown Sun

    Rail industry phasing out tank cars involved in Casselton derailment ahead of deadline

    By John Hageman, Oct 24, 2017 12:27 p.m.
    A fire from a train derailment burns uncontrollably as seen in this photograph Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, west of Casselton, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

    BISMARCK — Amid declining shipments, the rail industry is phasing out “less-safe” tank cars carrying crude oil ahead of rapidly approaching deadlines to do so.

    The federally mandated deadlines to remove the DOT-111 tank cars from oil service came after several high-profile derailments involving Bakken crude. That included the deadly Lac-Megantic, Quebec, disaster in 2013 and the explosion near Casselton, N.D., later that year.

    As of Jan. 1, DOT-111 cars without a protective steel layer known as a jacket can no longer carry crude oil. Those cars with the jacket must be phased out two months later.

    A U.S. Department of Transportation report sent to Congress last month shows the number of those cars carrying crude oil has dropped dramatically over the past few years. In 2013, 14,337 of them carried crude oil, which sank to 366 last year.

    That shift has been aided by a steep decline in Williston Basin rail exports over the past few years. A rush of activity in western North Dakota forced oil onto the tracks, but pipelines are now the dominant form of oil transportation, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

    “The first phase, in terms of removing the DOT-111s … that’s moving along very nicely,” said John Byrne, vice chairman of the Railway Supply Institute’s Committee on Tank Cars. “Because there’s a surplus of cars available to take them out of service and replace them with compliant cars.”

    Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the Dakota Access Pipeline helped push oil off the tracks when it went online earlier this year. But rail shipments across the country have been declining since 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.

    The latest BNSF Railway Co. report provided by the state Department of Emergency Services, dated September, shows as many as three oil trains moved through Cass County in one week, down from a high of 56 first reached in 2014.

    Pointing to increased training for first responders, DES Hazardous Chemical Officer Jeff Thompson said they’re “more comfortable with the situation than we were before.” But that doesn’t mean they’ve let their guard down.

    “There’s always the fear that (it) happens in the middle of a town. And that goes with all train derailments, not just crude oil,” he said.

    About 476,000 gallons of oil spilled near Casselton in late December 2013 after an oil train slammed into a derailed grain car, sparking a fireball over the snowy landscape. Residents evacuated, but there were no deaths or serious injuries, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

    Oil spilled from 18 of the derailed DOT-111 cars in that incident, according to the NTSB, which “long had concerns” about the “less-safe” tank cars because they’re not puncture resistant, have relatively thin shells and lack thermal protection.

    In announcing the agency’s findings on the Casselton derailment in February, the NTSB’s then-Chairman Christopher Hart said “progress toward removing or retrofitting DOT-111s has been too slow.” Thousands of those cars are still being used to carry ethanol and other flammable liquids, which have later phase-out dates, according to the transportation department’s report.

    By 2029, flammable liquids can only be carried in DOT-117s, which have thicker shells and insulating material, Byrne said. The new and retrofitted versions of those cars now represent 9 percent of the fleet carrying Class 3 flammable liquids, which includes crude oil and ethanol, according the transportation department report.

    “There’s been a huge improvement in the overall safety of the cars moving crude today versus what we were looking at in 2013, 2014,” Byrne said.


      KCRA TV3 NEWS VIDEO: Valero’s oil train project halted by Benicia city leaders

      Repost from KCRA TV3, Sacramento CA
      [Editor: The video could not be embedded here on Benicia Indy, but it’s a good one – click the image to go to KCR3’s website for the video.  – RS]

      Valero’s oil train project halted by Benicia city leaders

      Crude oil train would have traveled through NorCal cities daily
      Sep 21, 2016, 9:10 PM PDT

      benicia_video_linkBENICIA, Calif. (KCRA) —Benicia City Councilmembers denied Valero’s plans Tuesday night to move forward on its crude-by-rail proposal, citing safety concerns.

      The project would have had trains transporting tens of thousands of crude oil – daily — to Benicia through Sacramento-area communities.

      In the city of Benicia, with a population just under 30,000, you can’t miss the large presence of Valero.

      “They provide a lot of money to the city,” Benicia resident John Geels said.

      The company is the largest employer, providing 20 percent to the general fund. So, it became a big deal last night when city council members told the company “No.”

      “We denied the appeal that Valero put forward, after the planning commission unanimously denied their application for a permit,” Benicia Councilmember Christina Strawbridge said.

      That permit would have paved the way for an expansive crude oil project impacting Northern California cities.

      For years, the issue went beyond the borders of Benicia, as the public and other jurisdictions expressed concerns over safety.

      “Right in the heart of Davis, we are in the blast zone right now,” Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said. “And, that increased volume would increase the risk in our communities.”

      Ultimately, Benicia councilmembers voted unanimously to reject the plan, many citing recent oil train emergencies.

      “It gave me real pause,” Strawbridge said. “As far as rail safety, there’s been 13 different derailments since 2013.”

      Valero issued a response to the decision:

      “After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the city councilmembers have chosen to reject the crude by rail project. At this time, we are considering our options moving forward.”

      The divisive issue still has some residents split on the outcome.

      “I feel bad for Valero, and I’m sure it’s going to hurt them financially,” Geels said. “But, I’m glad they were turned down.”

      Meanwhile, others said the small city is making big waves, setting a new precedent as the conversation over crude oil transport continues.

      “So, it’s a milestone because this community stood up,” Saylor said.

      On Thursday morning, the planning commission in San Luis Obispo County will be taking up a similar hearing — for an oil-by-rail project proposed by Phillips 66.