Category Archives: Tank car maintenance

NY TIMES / AP: Slow Progress Seen on Faulty Rail Cars

Repost from the New York Times (AP)

Upgrades to Unsafe Tank Cars Could Take 15 Years, Board Says

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press, July 13, 2016, 2:30 A.M. E.D.T.
Oil Train Accidents
FILE–In this June 3, 2016, file frame from video provided by KGW-TV, smoke billows from a Union Pacific train that derailed near Mosier, Ore., in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. U.S. safety officials say they’ve seen slow progress in efforts to upgrade or replace tens of thousands of rupture-prone rail cars used to transport oil and ethanol, despite a string of fiery derailments. (KGW-TV via AP, file)

BILLINGS, Mont. — Accident-prone tank cars used to haul crude oil and ethanol by rail could remain in service for another 15 years under federal rules that allow companies to phase in upgrades to the aging fleet, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Transportation officials and railroad representatives have touted the rules as a key piece of their efforts to stave off future disasters, following a string of fiery derailments and major spills that raised concerns about the crude-by-rail industry.

Yet without mandatory, periodic benchmarks for meeting the requirements, the decision to upgrade to safer tank car designs “is left entirely to tank car fleet owners, and may be driven by market factor influences, not safety improvements,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Tom Simpson with the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car manufacturers and owners, said the industry is committed to putting stronger cars in place. Members of the group will meet deadlines for replacing or upgrading the cars, he said, noting that demand for rail cars has eased after crude-by-rail shipments decreased over the past two years in response to lower oil prices.

“The need to modify or install new cars isn’t as urgent as when the rule was issued,” Simpson said.

In recent years, accidents involving the older cars have occurred in Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Illinois, West Virginia and Canada.

The most notable was in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway oil train derailed in 2013. During the most recent accident last month in Oregon, 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, sparking a massive fire that burned for 14 hours near the small town of Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge.

Cars built before the rule was enacted do not have to be fully replaced until 2029, although most would have to come off the tracks sooner.

Just over 10,300 stronger tank cars mandated by the new rules are available for service, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press from the Association of American Railroads.

That’s equivalent to roughly 20 percent of the 51,500 tank cars used to haul crude and ethanol during the first quarter of 2016.

Transportation Department Press Secretary Clark Pettig said in response to the NTSB’s criticism that the schedule to retrofit older cars was locked in by Congress in a transportation bill approved last year. The Congressional deadline represents “the absolute last moment” to meet the new standards, Pettig said.

“We agree with NTSB that industry should work to beat those deadlines,” he said.

A Wednesday meeting was planned in Washington, D.C., where government and industry officials were set to update the safety board on progress addressing the issue.

Safety board member Robert Sumwalt told the Associated Press that federal regulators need to set milestones to hold the industry accountable.

“There’s been 28 accidents over the past 10 years. That’s almost three accidents a year,” Sumwalt said. “Unfortunately, history shows we probably will have more accidents involving flammable liquids.”

A bill from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and other Democratic lawmakers would offer tax credits for companies that upgrade their cars during the next several years.

“Communities near train tracks, like Mosier, Oregon, must be confident that companies are using the safest tank cars possible,” Wyden said.

The railroad association said only 700 of the least resilient model of the older-style tank cars remain in service. Most of the cars in current use have at least some improvements, such as shields at either end of the car to help prevent punctures during derailments.

Transportation officials cautioned, however, that thousands of idled “legacy cars” could quickly come back online if oil prices rise and shipment volumes rebound.

Most tank cars are owned or leased by companies that ship fuel by rail, not the railroads themselves.

“Every tank car carrying crude or ethanol needs to be upgraded or replaced,” said railroad association spokesman Ed Greenberg.

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    ForestEthics: Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow

    Repost from ForestEthics (Also appearing in the Huffington Post)

    Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow

    By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, May 1, 2015
    New Oil Train Rules (Photo/NOAA)
    New Oil Train Rules (Photo/NOAA)

    In the first three months of 2015 four oil train accidents sent emergency responders scrambling, crude oil spilling into drinking water supplies, and fireballs blasting into the sky. The string of accidents in February and March demonstrate the severe threat from Bakken crude and Alberta tar sands moving on mile-long oil trains. These derailments and explosions set a bar we can use to measure the new oil train standards announced today by the US and Canadian governments.

    Would the new rules have prevented any of the 2015 accidents and, ultimately, will they reduce the threat of oil train catastrophes like the 2013 Lac Megantic, Quebec, explosion that killed 47 people? The answer is no, and the reason is speed: the regulations move too slow and the trains continue to move too fast.

    The rules announced at a joint press conference today by US and Canadian officials arrive decades late and with the sticky fingerprints of the oil and rail industry all over them. The administration has slowed down and narrowed the scope of the rules so the most dangerous tank cars stay on the rails for at least two and a half years. Other unsafe tank cars have five or seven years before they must meet new higher standards.

    Not that the new standards will help much: All four 2015 accidents involved CPC-1232 cars, the newer tank cars that are supposedly safer than the dangerous DOT-111s. But to be clear, neither the upgraded cars or new cars built to the new standard will prevent an explosion if the train is moving at normal speeds.

    So we can begin to look for new and upgraded cars (like the ones that exploded in recent months) in the years to come, but those living along the tracks can still expect to see the worst cars continue to roll by their homes for a very long time. The administration effectively allows rail companies to keep antiquated tank cars on the rails in trains with fewer than 35 crude oil tank cars (or 20 in a row.) That means oil trains hauling up to a million gallons of explosive crude oil in the most dangerous tank cars will keep rolling through a downtown near you FOREVER.

    The administration trumpets new electronically controlled pneumatic brakes for oil trains. While it’s good news that oil and rail companies will use state-of-the-art technology, the administration is giving them until 2021 to install the new better brakes. That’s six years too long to require what should be a basic minimum safety requirement.

    And while these upgrades to the tank car fleet creep slowly into place, the trains will continue flying down the tracks at reckless speeds. The new rule allows oil trains to travel at more than twice the rated “puncture velocity” of even the new tank cars that they will (in some cases) eventually require. That means that oil trains carrying three million gallons of explosive crude will continue to travel at 50 mph across North America, except in a small number of “high threat” urban areas where they must go 40. The new speed limits offer little comfort because three of the four of the explosive accidents in 2015 occurred at speeds below 35 mph. (The accident in Gogama, ON, occurred at 43 mph, just three mph over the “high-priority” speed limit.) The Galena, Illinois, derailment occurred at only 23 mph, proving that the speed limits in the rule are inadequate to protect anyone.

    In the final insult to injury, the administration walked too quickly away from notification standards in an earlier draft of the rule, leaving citizens and emergency responders in the dark about where these trains are running and when.

    The Obama Administration took its time developing new rules for hazardous materials on trains that run through the heart of America: they looked at the threat of exploding oil trains, but heavy industry lobbying made them flinch. The administration failed to learn the lessons of Lac Megantic or the four explosive oil train accidents we’ve seen so far in 2015 alone. They have given public safety the cold shoulder, instead embracing the oil and rail industry lobbyists peddling this dangerous cargo.

    We were fortunate that none of the 2015 accidents caused fatalities. ForestEthics and our many partners will continue pushing the administration to do a lot better and hope that our luck holds while we stop these dangerous trains from crisscrossing North America.  But it shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Secretary Foxx and President Obama have chosen to roll the dice instead of writing strong rules that protect the 25 million of us living in the blast zone.


    More by Todd Paglia:
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      Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains

      Repost from Bloomberg
      [Editor:  See also:  OregonLive, Minnesota Public Radio, U.S. News & World Report, others….  – RS]

      Lower Speed Limits Part of U.S. Safety Proposal for Oil Trains

      by Jim Snyder, April 17, 2015 10:00 AM PDT

      Trains carrying crude oil will be restricted to a 40 mile-per-hour speed limit in populated areas such as New York under an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation in response to a series of derailments. Railroads voluntarily agreed to that speed limit in so-called High Threat Urban Areas, a designation that covers more than three dozen cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington. The emergency order issued Friday makes that agreement mandatory for all railroads hauling 20 or more tank cars linked together or 35 cars in total that are filled with oil or other flammable liquids. It applies to both older model DOT-111 tank cars and CPC-1232s the industry has been voluntarily building since 2011. “This order is necessary due to the recent occurrence of railroad accidents involving trains transporting petroleum crude oil and ethanol and the increasing reliance on railroads to transport voluminous amounts of those hazardous material in recent years,” the notice states. The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a proposal from the Transportation Department that would require a more durable type of tank car be used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. That rule may be released next month. A draft of that rule calls for tank cars with a thicker steel shell, more robust top fittings and better brakes.

      Quebec Disaster

      Questions about the safety of the growing fleet of trains carrying oil arose after an unattended train broke from its moorings in 2013 and rolled into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. This year, oil trains have derailed in Ontario and in West Virginia and Illinois, creating dramatic images of fireballs billowing from rumpled tank cars. The Transportation Department also issued a notice Friday to ensure railroads provide information to investigators after an accident within 90 minutes, including about the volatility of the oil being hauled and the type of rail car in the train. Investigators suspect an accident last month in Galena, Illinois, was related to a broken wheel, and in another step announced today, the Transportation Department recommended tighter standards for replacing wheels than the industry currently observes. Railroads should “provide special attention” to the condition of the tank cars they haul, the order states.

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        “Residue train” tank car blows up at rail car cleaning company, 2 dead in Omaha

        Repost from KETV 7 News, Omaha, NE
        [Editor:  Note that “empty” tank cars are NOT empty, and remain volatile and dangerous.  A “residue train” of 50 or 100 “empties” returning along the same tracks as arriving full trains would seem to DOUBLE the associated risk of derailment and explosion.  … KMTV 3 News features witness comments, including one who described the flames after the boom: “I wouldn’t call it a ball – it looked more like a torch.” (…at minute 1:22 of the video)  – RS]

        At least one TWO dead after explosion at Omaha rail yard

        Apr 14, 2015, 5:31 PM
        OmahaExplosionKETV
        Click to go to video on KETV website

        OMAHA, Neb. — UPDATE: We’re learning more about a fatal explosion in a tank car at an Omaha rail yard Tuesday.

        By Tuesday night, officials confirmed two men who were cleaning the tank car had died in the blast near Second and Hickory streets.

        EARLIER: At least one person was hurt in a possible explosion Tuesday.

        View image on TwitterEmergency crews were sent to the area of Second and Hickory streets around 1:30 p.m. First responders found one man lying on the ground outside the tank car. He was taken in extremely critical condition to CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

        Battalion Chief Tim McCaw said the explosion blew a ladder off the tank car that the workers had been cleaning, trapping a second worker inside. His condition is not known, officials said.

        Fire crews were waiting for toxic limits to subside before entering the tank car; however, at this point, McCaw said it will likely be a recovery operation.

        The identities of the victims have not yet been released.

        GE Capital Rail Services issued the following statement Tuesday:

        “We can confirm there was an accident on a track at a railcar repair shop that we operate in Omaha on Tuesday, April 14. We are not in a position to provide details of what caused the incident at this time as an investigative team is on their way to the site to assess the situation. Right now we are focused on the safety of those in the shop and our thoughts and sympathies are with those who were affected by this unfortunate accident.”
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