Category Archives: U.S. Department of Transportation

Washington Republican asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

Repost from American Shipper

Lawmaker asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has requested the Department of Transportation study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.
BY BEN MEYER |FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

U.S. House Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider further regulation of freight trains carrying crude oil.

Beutler earlier this week sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Federal Railroad Administrator Sara Feinberg and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez asking DOT to study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.

Specifically, Beutler asked DOT to consider whether interspersing oil tank cars with non-volatile commodities might make them less likely to catch fire in the event of a derailment.

Beutler’s letter was largely prompted by a growing number of destructive derailments involving crude oil trains in recent years, the largest of which claimed the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013.

Back in June, a Union Pacific Corp. train carrying crude oil derailed near Mosier, Ore., about 68 miles east of Portland, causing some of the tank cars to burst into flames and spill oil into an adjacent section of the Columbia River. That train was en route from Eastport, Idaho to Tacoma, Wash. carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation, which is more flammable and dangerous than other types of crude oil.

“Although far less catastrophic than it could have been, the [Mosier] derailment highlighted the need for strong safety measures to address shipments of volatile and hazardous commodities through the Columbia River Gorge – whether related, or unrelated to oil shipments,” Beutler wrote in the letter. “Subsequently, I am writing to request information on dispersing tank cars carrying oil, or other hazardous materials, with non-volatile products throughout trains.”

She asked DOT to consider whether continuous blocks of oil tank cars increases the risks of combustion, potential benefits of requiring disbursement of cars carrying flammable materials throughout a train, and possible effects on combustibility of use of newer DOT-117 tank cars.

In addition, Beutler asked if federal regulators have studied speed limits reduction for oil trains as a way to mitigate the risk of combustion.

Washington state lawmakers last month adopted new regulations surrounding the transportation of crude oil by rail and pipeline that officially take effect Oct. 1. Developed by the Washington Department of Ecology at the request of the legislature, Chapter 173-185 WAC, Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline Notification, established reporting standards for facilities receiving crude oil transported by rail and pipeline, and for the department to share information with emergency responders, local governments, tribes and the public.

On the federal level, DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration, in August released final rules amending the federal hazardous materials regulations related to the transport of crude oil and ethanol by rail.

The rule changes, first introduced by DOT in May 2015 as required by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, include an enhanced tank car standard and an “aggressive, risk-based” retrofitting schedule for older tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol.

In addition, the rules require trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids to use a new braking standard; employ new operational protocols such as routing requirements and speed restrictions; share information with local government agencies; and provide new sampling and testing requirements DOT said will “improve classification of energy products placed into transport.”

The Senate in May unanimously passed the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act, which aims to provide additional training for first responders, specifically for handling freight train derailments that include hazardous materials such as crude oil.

Originally sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., the legislation establishes a public-private council of emergency responders, federal agencies and industry stakeholders tasked with reviewing current training methods and prescribing best practices for first responders to Congress. The council will be co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and PHMSA. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has introduced a companion bill to the RESPONSE Act in the House of Representatives.

“Currently, oil trains are traveling along the Columbia River Gorge, and my focus is on ensuring federal regulations are making these shipments as safely as possible,” Beutler said in a statement. “Long lines of oil cars are becoming a more familiar sight in our region, and if breaking them up into smaller blocks will better protect our citizens, the Columbia River and nearby forests, we should put a federal standard in place – quickly.”

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Benicia Mayor outlines possible outcomes for City Council on Sept 20

Repost of an E-Alert by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, September 18, 2016
[Editor: I would expect considerable discussion on Tuesday to center on whether to continue waiting for a Surface Transportation Board response to Valero’s end run around local permitting authority. Valero has been openly urging Council to continue to delay making a decision.  City staff and the Mayor are certainly expecting a motion to delay; 3 of the 4 possible scenarios outlined below center on continuation. (Don’t miss the quote from Christopher Hart, chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Mayor Patterson’s question, at the bottom of this E-Alert.)  – RS]

elizabethpatterson
AN E-ALERT FROM YOUR MAYOR,
ELIZABETH PATTERSON
Benicia, California

 

The Tuesday Council meeting’s main item is the decision on Valero Crude by Rail EIR and Land Use Permit. The complete packet is online here.

The following are potential scenarios for action:

  1. Valero could submit a formal written request for continuation of the appeal in order for the Federal Surface Transportation Board to render a decision on federal preemption of local land use authority. This request would be considered under the Open Government Ordinance as “new and substantial information” and the Council would decide whether or not this request is new and substantial. If the council votes in the majority, the consideration for delay for STB decision would be on the next agenda. The council would then have to decide whether to proceed or not with the action on the current agenda which is the appeal of the Planning Commission denial of the project. Staff is recommending approving the appeal.
  2. No request in writing for continuation but during the council consideration of the Valero appeal, Valero could request a “point of order” and ask for council consideration of continuing the delay. Council again would have to act on the point of order before proceeding to the agenda item. There could be the same outcome as in #1.
  3. No request for continuation by Valero and consideration of the appeal of the denial by the Planning Commission. A councilmember could request a continuation but council cannot continue the item without Valero’s consent – so a council member could ask for a continuation and if Valero agrees the consideration of continuation would have to be at the next meeting. See #1 for steps.
  4. No request for continuation by anyone. The council will hear staff report – there is no public comment on this item unless there is demonstrably new and substantial information (see above for steps by council for consideration). So the decision can be as follows:
    1. motion and second to deny appeal and thus let stand Planning Commission denial of the land use permit with or without prejudice (with means a new application of the same project must wait one year; without means no such restriction. A modified project would be considered a new application).
    2. motion and second to consider certification of Final Environmental Impact Report followed by a motion to deny appeal.
    3. motion to certify the FEIR and grant the appeal and approve the land use permit.

“We’ve been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart [current head of the National Transportation Safety Board] said. “But an American version of Lac-Mégantic could happen at any time. Instead of happening out in the middle of a wheat field it could happen in the middle of a big city.”
The Bakken oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people. As these safety issues are ignored, dismissed, or continued to be studied, an important question remains: How long until that luck runs out?
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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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