NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt to host a Rail Tank Car Safety Roundtable Discussion: A Dialogue on What’s Next in Rail Tank Car Safety
Among the provisions of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) are new requirements for improved railroad operating practices, more effective emergency responses, and safer and stronger tank cars. While tank car fleet owners must decide whether to replace or retrofit legacy DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars over the next 13-years, we continue to investigate serious accidents with flammable liquids releases and fires.
Rail tank car safety is of vital interest to the NTSB, and is on our 2016 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Because of our concern over tank car safety, we are hosting a roundtable to better understand issues facing implementation of the Fast Act requirements. We hope to gain deeper understanding of the logistics of replacing the existing tank car fleet to transport flammable materials, as well as how government and industry can overcome factors that could impede timely implementation of the new tank car rules.
Repost from Reuters [Editor: These tank cars exceed the new standard, but still fail on several counts. For instance, note the closing sentences here: “Hack said Tesoro is talking with Union Tank Car on possibly outfitting crude railcars to add enhanced brakes before the 2021 deadline. ‘We have some time to make that decision,’ he said.” You can be sure that every refinery seeking permits for crude by rail will crow that they, too, have ordered newer, safer tank cars. Get ready, Benicia! – RS]
EXCLUSIVE-Tesoro building crude railcars stronger than new US rules require
By Kristin Hayes, May 18, 2015 4:59pm BST
(Reuters) – U.S. refiner Tesoro Corp has ordered new crude oil railcars with features that surpass safety standards that federal regulators set this month, executives told Reuters.
The 210 tank cars being built in northern Louisiana are so-called pressure cars, with the same design as those that carry liquid petroleum gases such as propane and butane, gas cargoes that are more flammable than crude oil.
They will be delivered in the coming months after being ordered in early 2014.
The new federal rules for all crude and ethanol railcars built after Oct. 1 of this year do not require strength to the level of a pressure car but are stronger than the standards adopted by the industry in 2011.
Tesoro, like other oil-by-rail players, knew the federal standards were coming and the basics of what they would likely be. But the company went further with a stronger car, “which is the primary thing we control,” C.J. Warner, Tesoro’s head of strategy and business development, told Reuters.
The order was a sign the refiner wanted to get ahead of the coming regulations and avoid potential capacity bottlenecks at companies that build tank cars as shippers must now renovate their fleets.
Booming North American onshore production spurred sharp growth in moving oil by rail, particularly for U.S. West and East coast refiners which otherwise must depend on more costly imports. No major crude pipelines move oil from the Midcontinent west across the Rocky Mountains or east through the Appalachians and densely populated northeastern states.
Fiery derailments, caused in some cases by track failures, have become more frequent as oil-by-rail and crude-only trains carrying 100 cars or more went from nearly nothing five years ago to more than 1 million barrels per day late last year.
Opposition to moving oil by rail spiked on safety concerns, prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation and Canada to impose new railcar safety standards.
Tesoro isn’t the only refiner that didn’t wait for word from the U.S. DOT to order stronger cars.
Phillips 66 confirmed to Reuters that it also last year ordered 350 non-pressurized new cars that mostly match the new DOT standard. Those cars will be delivered by year-end, the company said.
Both sets of new cars have 9/16-inch-thick hulls, steel shields on the front and back and protections for valves and fittings where crude goes in on top and drains out the bottom, as the new rules require, company executives said. Tesoro’s design modifies those fittings to handle crude rather than just LPGs.
Tesoro’s cars also have test pressure specifications of 200 pounds per square inch of internal pressure, twice that for non-pressurized cars. A test pressure is typically 20 to 40 percent of how much pressure it would take for the railcar to burst.
That level of test pressure is standard for cars that transport LPGs or highly poisonous substances such as hydrogen cyanide, according to the Association of American Railroads.
“When we saw the design, we were very comfortable that it would meet the new standards that we anticipated,” John Hack, Tesoro’s head of rail operations, told Reuters.
For Tesoro, which hopes to build the largest oil-by-rail facility in the United States in Washington state, it’s an investment in safety and continued access to cheaper North American crudes.
“It’s very important to us to continue to transport North American crude and get it from the Midcontinent out to the West Coast where it competes very nicely with the foreign crudes,” Warner said.
By last year most refiners, including Tesoro and Phillips 66, no longer accepted shipments in older, weaker railcars such as those used on a runaway crude train that careened into the small Quebec town of Lac Megantic in mid-2013, killing 47 people.
Early last year Tesoro needed to replace the last of its older cars and worked with its builder, Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s Union Tank Car, to develop the new design, Warner said.
Tesoro and Phillips 66 aim to use their newest cars in crude trains before deciding whether to order more. Both companies’ fleets meet the 2011 industry standard for cars with 7/16-inch-thick hulls and reinforced valves.
Those 7/16-inch cars don’t have to be thrown out, but to move in crude-only trains, they will need added protections, including ‘jackets’, or an extra layer of steel around the tank, according to the DOT rules.
Neither Tesoro’s nor Phillips 66’s new cars are equipped with specialized brakes that the DOT said crude-only trains must have starting in 2021 or be held to 30 miles per hour. An oil industry trade group is challenging that provision in court.
Hack said Tesoro is talking with Union Tank Car on possibly outfitting crude railcars to add enhanced brakes before the 2021 deadline.
“We have some time to make that decision,” he said.
(Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Terry Wade and James Dalgleish)
W.Va. oil train derailment was 1 of 3 with safer tank cars
By John Raby & Jonathan Mattise, Feb 18, 2015, UPDATED Feb 18, 2015 1:33pm ET
MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. — The fiery derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia is one of three in the past year involving tank cars that already meet a higher safety standard than what federal law requires — leading some to suggest even tougher requirements that industry representatives say would be costly.
Hundreds of families were evacuated and nearby water treatment plants were temporarily shut down after cars derailed from a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude Monday, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning down a house nearby. It was snowing at the time, but it is not yet clear if weather was a factor.
The fire smoldered for a third day Wednesday. State public safety division spokesman Larry Messina said the fire was 85 percent contained.
The train’s tanks were a newer model — the 1232 — designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago. The same model spilled oil and caught fire in Timmins, Ontario on Saturday, and last year in Lynchburg, Virginia.
A series of ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.
If approved, increased safety requirements now under White House review would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars being used to carry highly flammable liquids.
“This accident is another reminder of the need to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Oil industry officials had been opposed to further upgrading the 1232 cars because of costs. But late last year they changed their position and joined with the railway industry to support some upgrades, although they asked for time to make the improvements.
Oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to more than 435,000 in 2013, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail, according to American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.
The downside: Trains hauling Bakken-region oil have been involved in major accidents in Virginia, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Alabama and Canada, where 47 people were killed by an explosive derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Reports of leaks and other oil releases from tank cars are up as well, from 12 in 2008 to 186 last year, according to Department of Transportation records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Just Saturday — two days before the West Virginia wreck — 29 cars of a 100-car Canadian National Railway train carrying diluted bitumen crude derailed in a remote area 50 miles south of Timmins, Ontario, spilling oil and catching fire. That train was headed from Alberta to Eastern Canada.
The train Monday was bound for an oil shipping depot in Yorktown, Virginia, along the same route where three tanker cars plunged into the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia, prompting an evacuation last year.
The train derailed near unincorporated Mount Carbon just after passing through Montgomery, a town of 1,946, on a stretch where the rails wind past businesses and homes crowded between the water and the steep, tree-covered hills. All but two of the train’s 109 cars were tank cars, and 26 of them left the tracks.
Fire crews had little choice but to let the tanks burn themselves out. Each carried up to 30,000 gallons of crude.
One person — the owner of the destroyed home — was treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, according to the train company, CSX. The two-person crew, an engineer and conductor, managed to decouple the train’s engines from the wreck behind it and walk away unharmed.
The NTSB said its investigators will compare this wreck to others including Lynchburg and one near Casselton, N.D., when a Bakken crude train created a huge fireball that forced the evacuation of the farming town.
No cause has been determined, said CSX regional vice president Randy Cheetham. He said the tracks had been inspected just three days before the wreck.
“They’ll look at train handling, look at the track, look at the cars. But until they get in there and do their investigation, it’s unwise to do any type of speculation,” he said.
By Tuesday evening, power crews were restoring electricity, water treatment plants were going back online, and most of the local residents were back home. Initial tests showed no crude near water plant intake points, state Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said.
State officials do have some say over rail safety.
Railroads are required by federal order to tell state emergency officials where trains carrying Bakken crude are traveling. CSX and other railroads called this information proprietary, but more than 20 states rejected the industry’s argument, informing the public as well as first-responders about the crude moving through their communities.
West Virginia is among those keeping it secret. State officials responded to an AP Freedom of Information request by releasing documents redacted to remove nearly every detail.
There are no plans to reconsider after this latest derailment, said Melissa Cross, a program manager for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Contributors include Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C.; Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana; and Pam Ramsey in Charleston, West Virginia. Mattise reported from Charleston.