Category Archives: US Department of Transportation

10 Senators call for crude oil vapor limits before oil train transport

Repost from the Albany Times-Union
[Editor: for a copy of the letter, see the announcement on Sen. Schumer’s website.  California Senators Feinstein and Boxer also signed in the letter.  – RS]

Schumer adds voice to call for crude oil safety boost

Federal officials urged to limit vapor pressure before oil transport
By Brian Nearing Published 7:38 pm, Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Tank cars head to the siding in the Port of Albany over the port entrance road Wednesday June 29, 2016 in Albany, N.Y.  (Skip Dickstein/Times Union) Photo: SKIP DICKSTEIN
Tank cars head to the siding in the Port of Albany over the port entrance road Wednesday June 29, 2016 in Albany, N.Y. (Skip Dickstein/Times Union) Photo: SKIP DICKSTEIN

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer was among nine Democratic senators on Wednesday who urged federal officials to use emergency powers to limit potential flammability of crude oil transported nationwide every day by massive tanker trains.

The group wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging he reduce limits on acceptable crude oil vapor pressure, which indicates how easily oil can ignite during a train derailment.

Train derailments of tankers carrying crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota have caused several explosions in the U.S., including one this month in Oregon. “The oil companies are making tons of profits, they can afford this. Safety has to come first,” Schumer said during a call with reporters.

Also signing the letter to Foxx were Sens. Bernie Sanders, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president; Patrick Leahy, also of Vermont; Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both of Washington state; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Jeff Merkley and Ronald Wyden, both of Oregon; and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both of California.  (continued)

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Tougher Tank Cars Too Slow in Coming: NTSB’s Sumwalt

Repost from OH&S Occupational Health & Safety Online

Tougher Tank Cars Too Slow in Coming: NTSB’s Sumwalt

"A year after the Mount Carbon crude oil train fire, residents there know that they narrowly escaped their town becoming the American Lac-Mégantic – an outcome of a fiery derailment that could still happen at any moment," NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt wrote Feb. 18, 2016.
“A year after the Mount Carbon crude oil train fire, residents there know that they narrowly escaped their town becoming the American Lac-Mégantic – an outcome of a fiery derailment that could still happen at any moment,” NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt wrote Feb. 18, 2016.
By OH&S, Feb 22, 2016

Two important rail safety changes for which the National Transportation Safety Board has been waiting are not yet realized, and a Feb. 18 post on NTSB’s Safety Compass blog by board member Robert L. Sumwalt calls for them to be achieved.

The two are changing over U.S. railroads’ DOT-111 tanker cars that carry crude oil and ethanol so they meet the more stringent DOT-117 standard and implementing positive train control.

But DOT has decided to give railroads until 2025 to convert to the DOT-117 standard (which includes tank head shields, thicker shell material for increased puncture resistance, tank jackets and thermal protection systems with reclosing high-capacity pressure relief devices, and stronger protection for bottom outlet valves and top fittings) for those cars and until 2029 for tank carrying other flammable liquids, Sumwalt wrote.

As for positive train control, it was required to be implemented by 2015, but late last year the deadline was extended to 2018. “Some railroads have already advised the FRA they will need an extension to the extension, pushing implementation to late 2020,” Sumwalt wrote. “It takes effort and money to make changes to enhance safety, and the NTSB applauds the efforts thus far to implement PTC. But it’s time to finish the job.”

He began the post by commenting on the Feb. 15, 2015, derailment of 27 tank cars from a 109-car crude oil unit train near Mount Carbon, W.Va. “Crude oil was released from the derailed cars and immediately ignited into a pool of fire. Emergency responders evacuated 1,100 people within a half-mile radius of the accident and allowed the fire to burn itself out,” he wrote. “All of the cars involved in the Mount Carbon accident were the enhanced DOT-111 tank cars built to the industry’s CPC-1232 standard, the best available general service tank car at the time of the accident. Yet, the fire created by two punctured tank cars resulted in 13 adjacent tank cars becoming breached when heat exposure weakened their shells, which were not equipped with thermal protection systems.”

Sumwalt listed several other derailments in the United States that involved the release of flammable materials and post-accident fires, and he cited the terrible example of the derailment of a train hauling Bakken crude oil in Lac–Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013, killing 47 people.

NTSB would have preferred a more aggressive DOT-117 implementation schedule and awaits concerted efforts by the railroads to upgrade their existing DOT-111 tank cars in flammable liquids service to the new DOT-117 standard or relegate them to carrying less dangerous cargo, he added.

“A year after the Mount Carbon crude oil train fire, residents there know that they narrowly escaped their town becoming the American Lac-Mégantic – an outcome of a fiery derailment that could still happen at any moment,” he wrote.

 

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AP EXCLUSIVE: DOT predicts fuel-hauling trains will derail 10 times a year; cost $4 billion; 100’s killed

Repost from Associated Press News
[Editor: Download the July, 2014 Department of Transportation analysis here.  A word of caution: a reputable source writes, “On a closer inspection, PHMSA conceded that the numbers it used for the analysis are flawed and that the scenarios lined out in the AP story are assuming no new regulations are enacted.”  That said, my source also wrote, “We didn’t need a study to tell us there was a problem.”- RS]

AP Exclusive: Fuel-hauling trains could derail at 10 a year

By Matthew Brown and Josh Funk, Feb. 22, 2015 12:00 PM ET

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

The projection comes from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities. The study completed last July took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with crude derailed in West Virginia, sparked a spectacular fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families.

Monday’s accident was the latest in a spate of fiery derailments, and senior federal officials said it drives home the need for stronger tank cars, more effective braking systems and other safety improvements.

“This underscores why we need to move as quickly as possible getting these regulations in place,” said Tim Butters, acting administrator for the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The volume of flammable liquids transported by rail has risen dramatically over the last decade, driven mostly by the oil shale boom in North Dakota and Montana. This year, rails are expected to move nearly 900,000 car loads of oil and ethanol in tankers. Each can hold 30,000 gallons of fuel.

Based on past accident trends, anticipated shipping volumes and known ethanol and crude rail routes, the analysis predicted about 15 derailments in 2015, declining to about five a year by 2034.

The 207 total derailments over the two-decade period would cause $4.5 billion in damage, according to the analysis, which predicts 10 “higher consequence events” causing more extensive damage and potential fatalities.

If just one of those more severe accidents occurred in a high-population area, it could kill more than 200 people and cause roughly $6 billion in damage.

“Such an event is unlikely, but such damages could occur when a substantial number of people are harmed or a particularly vulnerable environmental area is affected,” the analysis concluded.

The two fuels travel through communities with an average population density of 283 people per square kilometer, according to the federal analysis. That means about 16 million Americans live within a half-kilometer of one of the lines.

Such proximity is equivalent to the zone of destruction left by a July 2013 oil train explosion that killed 47 people and leveled much of downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the analysis said.

Damage at Lac-Megantic has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads said the group was aware of the Department of Transportation analysis but had no comment on its derailment projections.

“Our focus is to continue looking at ways to enhance the safe movement of rail transportation,” AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

Both the railroad group and the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car owners and manufacturers, said federal officials had inflated damage estimates and exaggerated risk by assuming an accident even worse than Lac-Megantic, which was already an outlier because it involved a runaway train traveling 65 mph, far faster than others that had accidents.

To get to refineries on the East and West coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, oil shipments travel through more than 400 counties, including major metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Newark and dozens of other cities, according to routing information obtained by The Associated Press through public record requests filed with more than two dozen states.

Since 2006, the U.S. and Canada have seen at least 21 oil-train accidents and 33 ethanol train accidents involving a fire, derailment or significant amount of fuel spilled, according to federal accident records reviewed by the AP.

At least nine of the trains, including the CSX train that derailed in West Virginia, were hauling oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region that is known for being highly volatile. Of those, seven resulted in fires.

Both the West Virginia accident and a Jan. 14 oil train derailment and fire in Ontario involved recently built tank cars that were supposed to be an improvement to a decades-old model in wide use that has proven susceptible to spills, fires and explosions.

Safety officials are pushing to make the tanker-car fleet even stronger and confronting opposition from energy companies and other tank car owners.

Industry representatives say it could take a decade to retrofit and modify more than 50,000 tank cars, not the three years anticipated by federal officials, who assumed many cars would be put to new use hauling less-volatile Canadian tar-sands oil.

The rail industry’s overall safety record steadily improved over the past decade, dropping from more than 3,000 accidents annually to fewer than 2,000 in 2013, the most recent year available, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

But the historical record masks a spike in crude and ethanol accidents over the same time frame. Federal officials also say the sheer volume of ethanol and crude that is being transported – often in trains more than a mile long – sets the two fuels apart.

Most of the proposed rules that regulators are expected to release this spring are designed to prevent a spill, rupture or other failure during a derailment. But they will not affect the likelihood of a crash, said Allan Zarembski, who leads the railroad engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware.

Derailments can happen in many ways. A rail can break underneath a train. An axle can fail. A vehicle can block a crossing. Having a better tank car will not change that, but it should reduce the odds of a tank car leaking or rupturing, he said.

Railroads last year voluntarily agreed to reduce oil train speeds to 40 mph in urban areas. Regulators said they are considering lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for trains not equipped with advanced braking systems. Oil and rail industries say it could cost $21 billion to develop and install the brakes, with minimal benefits.

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