Inspection finds faulty switch, critical rail and tank car safety defects

Repost from The Times Union, Albany NY

Faulty switch slows trains

Speed limit lowered after defect that could cause derailment found
By Brian Nearing | December 15, 2014
Oil tanker and freight cars at the Port of Albany are seen from Corning Tower Monday afternoon, Dec. 15, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Speed limits for trains were lowered on tracks near a large industrial park near Voorheesville that are commonly used by massive trains carrying flammable crude oil after state and federal safety inspectors found a faulty switch that could have caused a derailment. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Trains were slowed on tracks last week near a large Albany County industrial park — where passing trains routinely carry dozens of tankers filled with flammable crude oil — after state and federal safety inspectors found a faulty switch that could have caused a derailment.

That switch, which feeds trains into the 550-acre Northeast Industrial Park, was examined Dec. 9 as part of the eighth statewide inspection of oil trains and tracks ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to safety concerns about a surge of crude oil shipments through New York from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.

The switch is about three miles north of the village of Voorheesville and feeds trains into the park, which itself contains about 15 miles of tracks.

“We have sent inspection crews to check rail tracks and crude oil cars across New York and we continue to find critical safety defects that put New Yorkers at risk,” the governor said in a statement issued Monday. “We will remain vigilant and will continue to use all available resources to ensure that crude oil transporters are held to the highest safety standards.”

In the Capital Region, the speed limit on the CSX-owned track around the switch was lowered from 50 mph to 25 mph last week after inspectors from the state Transportation Department and Federal Railroad Administration found the switch was too narrow by just an eighth of an inch, said DOT spokesman Beau Duffy.

The switch could have been damaged by passing trains, or could cause a train to derail, he said. Duffy said the switch was repaired and higher speed limits have been restored.

The park is owned and managed by the Schenectady-based Galesi Group. A spokeswoman for company Chief Operating Officer David Buicko said the company was not made aware of the switch issue and learned of it from a Times Union reporter.

“We are committed to strong, ongoing and long-term coordination with state and local officials and will continue our aggressive program of inspection and maintenance of the entire CSX network,” said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle. “Upon being made aware of the defect, CSX implemented a speed reduction in that area. The switch was repaired over the weekend and the speed restriction has been lifted.”

Cuomo’s office announced that state and federal inspectors examined about 95 miles of track — from Schenectady to Selkirk, and from Albany to Whitehall in the Capital Region, as well as from Plattsburgh to the Canadian border in the North Country.

In addition to the faulty switch, inspectors found about 30 violations on tracks, including “critical problems” like missing bolts from a rail joint and an “insecure switch point heel.”

Inspectors at the Canadian Pacific Railway-owned Kenwood yard at the Port of Albany also examined 478 DOT-111 tanker rail cars, which are commonly used to haul Bakken crude. Found were 16 “non-critical defects,” including worn brake shoes, defective wheels and other issues.

Non-critical rail defects must be repaired within 30 days. Non-critical tank car defects must be fixed before the train departs the yard.

Other inspections were done at rail yards and tanker cars in western New York, uncovering another five “critical defects,” including two broken rails at the Dunkirk and Buffalo-Frontier rail yard, and DOT-111s with defective brakes, a cracked weld and missing bolts.