Category Archives: Rail tanker cars

Another derailment 2/25, 95 miles north of NYC

Repost from the Poughkeepsie Journal

Engine of empty oil train derails near Kingston; no spill

Feb. 25, 2014 5:46 PM   |  Written by Khurram Saeed
The Journal News

TOWN OF ULSTER — A CSX locomotive hauling 97 empty oil tank cars from Philadelphia to Chicago derailed near Kingston Tuesday morning, raising fresh concerns about the safety of oil trains following several deadly derailments last year.

The oil train was traveling north on the River Line — the same 130-mile track that runs through Rockland — when it derailed about 9:30 a.m. in the town of Ulster, about 70 miles north of New City. None of the tank cars went off the tracks and there were no injuries or spills, police said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order demanding shippers of volatile Bakken crude oil make sure it’s properly tested and classified before it’s transported by rail. Shippers also have to move the oil in “more robust” tank cars effective immediately.

“Shipping crude oil — or any hazardous material — without proper testing and classification could result in material being shipped in containers that are not designed to safely store it, or could lead first responders to follow the wrong protocol when responding to a spill,” the DOT release stated.

The federal emergency order was the fourth issued by the DOT in the past seven months in response to recent derailments in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada involving the volatile crude oil.

Tuesday’s derailment involved one locomotive and one car carrying sand directly behind it, River Line owner and operator CSX said in a statement. They both went off the track but remained “upright and inline,” the company said.

Service was expected to resume on the line on Tuesday after crews rerailed the track, CSX said. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

There hasn’t been a major derailment of a CSX train in Rockland in a decade. Prior to that, there had been three in six years.

“We used to have a lot of those here,” said Gordon Wren, Rockland County’s Fire and Emergency Services coordinator. “We put a lot of pressure on CSX to improve the tracks.”

Now the River Line is inspected visually twice a week, plus several times a year by sophisticated equipment that can check the condition and the stability of the rail and track structure, CSX has said.

There has been increased scrutiny on oil shipped by train in recent months, especially in communities through which the trains travel. In a typical week, 14 oil trains — made up of 80 to 100 tank cars, each holding close to 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude — pass through Rockland, a recent Journal News story revealed.

“(Tuesday’s) freight train derailment in Kingston underscores the point: A new ‘virtual pipeline’ is carrying crude oil straight through the Hudson Valley and bringing with it a whole new level of risk to our safety and our environment,” the environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper posted on its website Tuesday.

The unit trains, as they are also known, travel between the Midwest to refineries along the East Coast. Last December, a 99-car oil train hit a car carrier truck at a crossing in West Nyack. The tank cars were empty and the train did not derail but the truck’s cab went up in flames.

The U.S. DOT and the Association of American Railroads, an industry group, last week struck a voluntary deal to improve oil train safety. New measures call for trains to slow down when traveling through major cities, increased track inspections and improved emergency response planning along routes that carry trains hauling up to 3 million gallons of oil each.

“It’s great they’ve reduced the speed going through cities and urban areas,” Wren said. “I think we should be included in that.”

Sen. Charles Schumer agrees. He will hold a press conference Wednesday to contend the safety initiatives don’t go far enough.

Railroads and federal officials plan to address separately a design flaw in tens of thousands of tank cars that make them prone to rupture during derailments. Unlike tank cars that transport dangerous materials, the DOT-111 cars are not pressurized and were not built to transport flammable liquids.

Nearly 70 percent of the tank cars used to move crude oil are DOT-111s. During the past three years, Association of American Railroads has twice proposed phasing out older DOT-111 cars while retrofitting others. Since October 2011, about 18,000 DOT-111 cars have been built with thicker steel shells and other stricter safety improvements.

Good investigative report: DOT issues new emergency order

Repost from ABC7 WLS Chicago

Government issues emergency order on dangerous DOT-111 crude oil tankers

By Chuck Goudie

February 25, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Four months after an I-Team investigation exposed dangerous freight train shipments of crude oil running through our area, the federal government issued an emergency order to start dealing with the threat.

Tuesday’s emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation calls crude oil tankers an “imminent hazard.” As the I-Team found months ago, the hazard has been imminent for a long time. Twenty years year ago, safety board inspectors determined that what are known as DOT-111 tank cars were subject to rupture in derailments. They ordered design changes and structural upgrades, but nothing was ever done. Federal regulators sat up and noticed after ten accidents in the past year.

After recent derailments and explosions in North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec, Canada, the Department of Transportation issued an emergency order Tuesday that says “in light of continued dangers associated with petroleum crude oil shipments by rail, actions described in this order are necessary to eliminate unsafe conditions and practices that create an imminent hazard to public health and safety and the environment.”

The order requires all crude oil be properly tested before being transported. And all crude that travels by rail must be carried in these DOT-111 tank cars.  The older DOT-111 tank cars were deemed inadequate by the National Transportation Board more than 20 years ago.

Since the I-Team first reported on the risk on the rails last October, an investigation dubbed “Operation Classification” revealed some crude from the Bakken region,  including the oil in the tragic Lac Megantic derailment, was misclassified.

What that means is that potentially explosive crude oil was being shipped in rail cars even less safe than the DOT-111’s.

The so-called misclassification has resulted in $93,000 in fines. Tuesday’s order stated “misclassification is one of the most dangerous mistakes to be made when dealing with hazardous materials.”

There is a meeting Wednesday in Washington with government officials, and rail and oil industry leaders to talk about what to do next. Suburban Chicago leaders who have been all over this problem are still hoping the government will require tanker cars to be fixed to make them less likely to puncture or explode if they derail.

Wall Street: Bakken Crude Carries Higher Risks

Repost from Wall Street Journal

Bakken Crude Carries Higher Risks

Data Show Oil From North Dakota, Mostly Carried by Rail, Is More Combustible Than Other Types

Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation contains several times the combustible gases as oil from elsewhere, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, raising new questions about the safety of shipping such crude by rail across the U.S.
Federal investigators are trying to determine whether such vapors are responsible for recent extraordinary explosions of oil-filled railcars, including one that killed several dozen people in Canada last summer.The rapid growth of North Dakota crude-oil production—most of it carried by rail—has been at the heart of the U.S. energy boom. The volatility of the crude, however, raises concerns that more dangerous cargo is moving through the U.S. than previously believed.Neither regulators nor the industry fully has come to terms with what needs to be done to improve safety. But debate still rages over whether railcars need to be strengthened, something the energy industry has resisted.”Given the recent derailments and subsequent reaction of the Bakken crude in those incidents, not enough is known about this crude,” said Sarah Feinberg, chief of staff at the U.S. Transportation Department. “That is why it is imperative that the petroleum industry and other stakeholders work with DOT to share data so we can quickly and accurately assess the risks.”

The Journal analyzed data that had been collected by the Capline Pipeline in Louisiana, which tested crude from 86 locations world-wide for what is known as vapor pressure. Light, sweet oil from the Bakken Shale had a far higher vapor pressure—making it much more likely to throw off combustible gases—than crude from dozens of other locations.

Neither federal law nor industry guidelines require that crude be tested for vapor pressure.  Marathon Petroleum Corp., which operates Capline, declined to elaborate on its operations except to say that crude quality is tested to make sure customers receive what they pay for.

According to the data, oil from North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas had vapor-pressure readings of over 8 pounds per square inch, although Bakken readings reached as high as 9.7 PSI. U.S. refiner Tesoro Corp., a major transporter of Bakken crude to the West Coast, said it regularly has received oil from North Dakota with even more volatile pressure readings—up to 12 PSI.

By comparison, Louisiana Light Sweet from the Gulf of Mexico, had vapor pressure of 3.33 PSI, according to the Capline data.

Federal regulators, who have sought information about vapor pressure and other measures of the flammability and stability of Bakken crude, have said the industry hasn’t provided the data despite pledges to do so.

The industry’s chief lobbying group said it was committed to working with the government but that historically it hadn’t collected the information. The energy industry has resisted the idea that Bakken Shale oil’s high gas level is contributing to oil train explosions, but the American Petroleum Institute is revisiting the question.

David Miller, head of the institute’s standards program, said a panel of experts would develop guidelines for testing crude to ensure it is loaded into railcars with appropriate safety features.

The rapid growth in transporting oil by rail was rocked by several accidents last year. Last summer a train loaded with 72 cars of crude exploded, leveling downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killing 47 people. Later in the year, derailed trains exploded in Alabama and North Dakota, sending giant fireballs into the sky.

Most oil moving by rail comes from the Bakken Shale, where crude production has soared to nearly a million barrels daily at the end of last year from about 300,000 barrels a day in 2010.

The rapid growth in Bakken production has far outpaced the installation of pipelines, which traditionally had been relied on to move oil from wells to refineries. Most shale oil from Texas moves through pipelines, but about 70% of Bakken crude travels by train.

Bakken crude actually is a mixture of oil, ethane, propane and other gaseous liquids, which are commingled far more than in conventional crude. Unlike conventional oil, which sometimes looks like black syrup, Bakken crude tends to be very light.

“You can put it in your gas tank and run it,” said Jason Nick, a product manager at testing-instruments company Ametek Inc. “It smells like gasoline.”

Equipment to remove gases from crude before shipping it can be hard to find in the Bakken. Some Bakken wells are flowing so quickly that companies might not be able to separate the gas from the oil, said Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources. “At a really high flow rate, it is just much more difficult to get complete gas separation,” he said.

There also is a financial benefit to leaving gaseous liquids in the oil, because it gives companies more petroleum to sell, according to Harry Giles, the retired head of quality for the U.S. Energy Department’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The federal government doesn’t spell out who should test crude or how often. Federal regulations simply say that oil must be placed in appropriate railcars.

There are three “packaging groups” for oil, based on the temperatures at which it boils and ignites. But these tests don’t look at how many volatile gases are in the oil, and that is the industry’s challenge, according to Don Ross, senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Without clear guidance, some oil producers simply test their crude once and generate a “material safety data sheet” that includes some broad parameters and characteristics.

Much of the oil industry remains resistant to upgrading the 50,000 railcars that are used to carry crude oil, saying it would be too time consuming and expensive. The problem, they argue, isn’t the cargo but a lack of railroad safety.

—Laura Stevens and Tom McGinty contributed to this article.

Train sprays crude oil for nearly 70 miles

Repost from The Brainerd Dispatch

Train sprays crude oil for nearly 70 miles

 Posted: February 5, 2014

RED WING – A southbound Canadian Pacific train leaked a trail of about 12,000 gallons of crude oil Monday morning after passing through Red Wing, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

MPCA emergency responders worked with railroad personnel throughout the day Tuesday to gauge the extent of the spill and check for environmental damage, MPCA spokeswoman Cathy Rofshus said.

She described the leak as a “light spray on the ballast rocks” that stretches for nearly 70 miles of track.

A duty officer’s report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says the leak started in Red Wing and continued past Winona before it was reported around 9 a.m. Monday. Crews reportedly stopped the train and fixed a missing valve or cap responsible for the spill.

Investigators spent the day Tuesday looking for areas where the oil may have pooled, but so far none has been found, Rofshus said.