Category Archives: Train inspection

Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

Repost from KATU.COM

Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

By Donna Gordon Blankinship, Associateed Press, June 5, 2016
Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo).png
Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo)

MOSIER, Ore. — Officials now say a track failure was likely the cause of the oil train derailment and explosion in the Columbia River Gorge Friday.

A failure of the fastener between the railroad tie and the line was likely the problem, but more investigation will be required before railroad officials know for sure, Raquel Espinoza with Union Pacific said Sunday.

Union Pacific inspects the tracks that run through Mosier twice a week, and the most recent inspection took place on May 31, Espinoza said. Union Pacific had completed a more detailed and technical inspection of this section of track at the end of April and found no problems.

The railroad is focused on removing the crude oil from the damaged cars as safely and quickly as possible, Espinoza said. Its priority is to bring people home safe to Mosier, where 16 of 96 tank cars train derailed Friday and started a fire in four of the cars.

“We’re doing everything we can to get you back home, but we’re not going to risk your safety,” Espinoza said at a news conference. When asked if she knew how much the cleanup was going to cost the company, Espinoza said, “I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.”

“Our priority here is bringing people home. Nothing else matters,” she added. Repairs to a water treatment system, which runs under the tracks, would need to be completed before people could return to their homes, the railroad said.

About a hundred people – a quarter of the town’s population – have been evacuated from their homes since Friday in an area about a quarter mile around the train.

Mosier’s mayor and fire chief said Sunday the derailment and fire in their town could have been a lot worse.

Fire Chief Jim Appleton says the usual amount of wind in Mosier – about 25 mph – could have turned this incident into a major disaster, destroying the town and sending flames across state lines.

“My attention was focused on the incident that didn’t happen,” Appleton said. “It probably would have burned its way close to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s how big it would have been.”

Mayor Arlene Burns said the people of Mosier were “incredibly lucky.”

“I count myself lucky that we dodged a bullet,” Burns said, after noting that her own child was at school within a few blocks of the derailment. “We hope that this is a wake-up call.”

The fire and derailment damaged essential city services in the small Oregon town, authorities said Sunday.

The Mosier waste water treatment plant and sewer system were not operational Sunday. Residents were told not to flush their toilets and advised to boil any water before they drank it or cooked with it. Mosier exhausted its water reserves fighting the fire and cooling the trains. Burns said the aquifers were completely depleted.

Officials have been conducting continuous water and air monitoring since plumes of black smoke filled the sky near the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

“Today’s priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible,” incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.

Authorities were working to clean up an oil sheen in the Columbia River near the scene of the derailment, while the oil inside the remaining tank cars was being moved to trucks.

No injuries have been reported. But Oregon health officials are asking people with questions or concerns to call a hotline to talk to a health expert at 888-623-3120.

Including Friday’s incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of accident records from the two countries. The worst was a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Damage from that accident has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

Evacuated residents needing assistance should contact the Union Pacific Claim Center located across from the Mosier Market or call the claim center at 877-877-2567, option 6.

A health hotline has been set up at 888-623-3120. A boil water order remains in effect for the Mosier community.

    Investigators release records of fiery Casselton derailment

    Repost from News OK, Oklahoma City
    [Editor:  See also the NTSB Press Release, which links to the Casselton Accident Docket (79 documents).  – RS]

    Investigators release records of fiery Casselton derailment

    April 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Federal investigators have released hundreds of pages of records that offer new insight into the moments just before and after a 2013 oil train derailment near Casselton, North Dakota, that created a massive fire and forced 1,400 people to evacuate for several days.

    Interviews with the BNSF Railway workers operating the two trains in the derailment are included in documents the National Transportation Safety Board posted online Monday. Federal investigators also said in the documents that a broken train axle found after the derailment might have been prevented if BNSF railroad had inspected it more carefully and found a pre-existing flaw.

    The broken axel wasn’t pinpointed as the cause of the crash, but the NTSB ordered the industry to recall 43 axles made by Standard Steel in the same 2002 batch.

    Officials have said the accident happened when a westbound freight train derailed and a portion of it fell onto an adjacent track carrying the eastbound oil train. Eighteen cars on the 106-car oil train derailed and several exploded and burned.

    In the records released Monday, the two men onboard the BNSF oil train describe losing sight of the tracks in a cloud of blowing snow shortly before seeing a derailed grain car lying across the tracks. Emergency brakes were applied, but the train was still moving 42 mph when it struck the car.

    The 18 tank cars broke open and spilled 400,000 gallons of crude oil that fueled the fire that could be seen from nearly 10 miles away. It took several weeks to clean up the remaining oil from the site 30 miles west of Fargo after the flames were extinguished.

    Everyone aboard both trains escaped unharmed. But just a couple minutes after conductor Pete Rigpl exited the oil train, he looked back to see flames engulf the locomotive he and Bryan Thompson had been in.

    “I was exiting the cab then and started to get away from all the fire. It was — the heat was intense,” Rigpl said to investigators. “I mean, the whole situation just — I was in knee-deep snow. I couldn’t get away as quickly as I would like to.”

    The two men called 911 and talked with BNSF dispatchers as they moved away from the growing fire consuming their cargo. Rigpl and Thompson told investigators they stressed the potential danger as they talked with emergency responders.

    Railroad shipments of crude oil are facing additional scrutiny and tougher regulations because there have been several fiery derailments involving the commodity in recent years. The worst happened in July 2013 and killed 47 people in a small Canadian city just across the U.S.-Canada border from Maine.

    Thompson, the oil train’s engineer, said that when he heard people were approaching the derailment to get a glimpse of the wreckage he urged a sheriff’s deputy to remove them because of the danger.

    “I don’t think he grasped what was going on until I told him, I said do you know the story of the train in Canada? I said that’s the type of train I am,” Thompson said to the NTSB. “And his eyes got big, you know, then he said Code Red on his radio. I remember that.”

    BNSF and the other major freight railroads have taken a number of steps to improve the safety of crude oil shipments, including reducing speeds in high-risk areas.

    BNSF officials did not immediately respond Monday afternoon to a request for comment about the report.

    Federal regulators are expected to release new standards for the tank cars that carry crude oil and new rules for railroad operations as soon as next month.

    The number of carloads railroads hauled nationwide increased again last year to 493,126 from 407,761 in 2013. In 2008, before the oil boom took off in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as in Canada, railroads hauled just 9,500 carloads of crude oil.

    BNSF, which is owned by Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., hauls most of the oil produced in the Bakken region. It is based in Fort Worth, Texas.

      In case you missed it last week: Fed emergency order, advisories & notices on safety of hazmat trains

      Repost from NBC12 Richmond, VA
      [Editor: You would NOT BELIEVE the NUMBER of news stories on the Friday 4/17 release of federal orders by the DOT, FRA and PHMSA.  I won’t post a long list here – for a sample, just Google “oil train speed” and look through the 9,800 hits when you limit results to NEWS in the last week!  Better: just read the summary below.  For a good critique, see Law360.com’s “Enviro Groups Call DOT’s Oil Train Speed Limit ‘Toothless'”.   – RS]

      Agencies coordinate actions to increase safe transportation of energy products

      By Mike McDaniel, Updated: Apr 20, 2015 6:37 AM PDT

      The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announces with its agencies, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a package of targeted actions that will address some of the issues identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipped by rail.  The volume of crude oil being shipped by rail has increased exponentially in recent years, and the number of significant accidents involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil is unprecedented.

      “The boom in crude oil production, and transportation of that crude, poses a serious threat to public safety,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The measures we are announcing today are a result of lessons learned from recent accidents and are steps we are able to take today to improve safety. Our efforts in partnership with agencies throughout this Administration show that this is more than a transportation issue, and we are not done yet.”

      These actions represent the latest in a series of more than two dozen that DOT has initiated over the last nineteen months to address the significant threat to public safety that accidents involving trains carrying highly flammable liquids can represent. Today’s announcement includes one Emergency Order, two Safety Advisories, and notices to industry intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids.

      Actions

      1. Preliminary investigation of one recent derailment indicates that a mechanical defect involving a broken tank car wheel may have caused or contributed to the incident.  The Federal Railroad Administration is therefore recommending that only the highest skilled inspectors conduct brake and mechanical inspections of trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids, and that industry decrease the threshold for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts, to ensure the wheel integrity of tank cars in those trains.
      2. Recent accidents revealed that certain critical information about the train and its cargo needs to be immediately available for use by emergency responders or federal investigators who arrive on scene shortly after an incident.   To address the information gap, DOT is taking several actions to remind both the oil industry and the rail industry of their obligation to provide these critical details
      • PHMSA is issuing a safety advisory reminding carriers and shippers of the specific types of information (*listed below) that they must make immediately available to emergency responders;
      • FRA and PHMSA are issuing a joint safety advisory requesting that specific information (*listed below) also be made readily available to investigators;
      • FRA is sending a request to the Association of American Railroads asking the industry to develop a formal process by which this specific information (*listed below) becomes available to both emergency responders and investigators within 90 minutes of initial contact with an investigator, and;
      • FRA submitted to the Federal Register a notice proposing to expand the information collected on certain required accident reports, so that information specific to accidents involving trains transporting crude oil is reported.
      1. DOT has determined that public safety compels issuance of an Emergency Order to require that trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas adhere to a maximum authorized operating speed limit of 40 miles per hour in High Threat Urban Areas. Under the EO, an affected train is one that contains: 1) 20 or more loaded tank cars in a continuous block, or 35 or more loaded tank cars, of Class 3 flammable liquid; and, 2) at least one DOT Specification 111 (DOT-111) tank car (including those built in accordance with Association of American Railroads (AAR) Casualty Prevention Circular 1232 (CPC-1232)) loaded with a Class 3 flammable liquid.

      “These are important, common-sense steps that will protect railroad employees and residents of communities along rail lines.  Taking the opportunity to review safety steps and to refresh information before moving forward is a standard safety practice in many industries and we expect the shipping and carrier industries to do the same,” said Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg.

      “Our first priority is to prevent these accidents from ever happening,” stated Acting PHMSA Administrator Tim Butters.  “But when accidents do occur, first responders need to have the right information quickly, so we are reminding carriers and shippers of their responsibility to have the required information readily available and up to date.”

      The actions taken today coincide with actions being taken by other government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE).

      *Information required by PHMSA Safety Advisory

      • Basic description and technical name of the hazardous material  the immediate hazard to health;
      • Risks of fire or explosion;
      • Immediate precautions to be taken in the event of an accident;
      • Immediate methods for handling fires;
      • Initial methods for handling spills or leaks in the absence of fire;
      • Preliminary first aid measures; and
      • 24-hour telephone number for immediate access to product information.

      *Information sought by U.S. DOT in the event of a crude-by-rail accident:

      • Information on the train consist, including the train number, locomotive(s), locomotives as distributed power, end-of-train device information, number and position of tank cars in the train, tank car reporting marks, and the tank car specifications and relevant attributes of the tank cars in the train.
      • Waybill (origin and destination) information
      • The Safety Data Sheet(s) or any other documents used to provide comprehensive emergency response and incident mitigation information for Class 3 flammable liquids
      • Results of any product testing undertaken prior to transportation that was used to properly characterize the Class 3 flammable liquids for transportation (initial testing)
      • Results from any analysis of product sample(s) (taken prior to being offered into transportation) from tank car(s) involved in the derailment
      • Date of acceptance as required to be noted on shipping papers under 49 CFR § 174.24.
      • If a refined flammable liquid is involved, the type of liquid and the name and location of the company extracting the material
      • The identification of the company having initial testing performed (sampling and analysis of material) and information on the lab (if external) conducting the analysis.
      • Name and location of the company transporting the material from well head to loading facility or terminal.
      • Name and location of the company that owns and that operates the terminal or loading facility that loaded the product for rail transportation.
      • Name of the Railroad(s) handling the tank car(s) at any time from point of origin to destination and a timeline of handling changes between railroads.

      Since 2013 there have been 23 crude-related train accidents in the United States with the majority of incidents occurring without the release of any crude oil product.  The actions taken today can be found at the following link:

      All documents are available at:http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat/osd/chronology.