Tag Archives: Canadian Pacific Railroad

Green Groups press New York state for $100 million Oil Spill Fund

Repost from the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh NY

Green Groups press for $100 million state Oil Spill Fund

Claim $40M proposed in state budget won’t cover cost of derailments

By Kim Smith Dedam, March 23, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN — Environmental groups are pushing state lawmakers to bulk up the state’s Oil Spill Fund.

They see a need for $100 million set aside, not $40 million as is currently proposed in the executive and legislative budgets.

And they have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators to leave the money within the purview of the State Comptroller’s Office and not move the fund to State Department of Environmental Conservation coffers.

“This is a backup fund, mainly because in other cases, where a spill has led to significant cleanup costs, some companies go out of business, including the company whose accident resulted in the explosion at Lac-Megantic in Quebec,” Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said in an interview this week.

“At that point, there is little the state can do to get the money from the company other than to go to court.”


Total liabilities for the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster in July 2013 could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade, the coalition said in a news release.

The Adirondack Council joined forces with Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper to press the Oil Spill Fund issue.

“Typically, the requirement for (accident) insurance has not been high enough to cover the cost of an accident that could take place as the result of an explosion,” Sheehan told the Press-Republican.

“And it doesn’t take much oil to contaminate thousands of gallons of water, especially when we’re talking about a drinking water supply for 188,000 people, which Lake Champlain is.”

The Canadian Pacific Railroad line runs the entire length of Lake Champlain’s western shore, and oil train trips have increased in recent months.

Many places where oil cars have spilled and exploded sustained permanent environmental damage, Sheehan said.


The coalition is not trying to force funding contributions from oil transport companies or the railroads to bolster state Oil Spill Funds.

They do believe lawmakers in Albany are on the right track in looking to increase funding for next year.

“However, the $15 million increase to $40 million proposed by (Cuomo) and Assembly budgets could and should be increased.

“In today’s dollars, the $25 million fund created in 1977 would be a $96.4 million fund today,” the coalition said in a news release.

“Thus, we urge that the fund cap be increased to $100 million to bring it back to parity with the monetary protection it afforded nearly four decades ago.”

They also charge that the Oil Spill Fund should be indexed to keep pace with inflation.


“Federal regulators have told us to expect at least 10 major derailments of crude oil trains a year. There have already been four in the last three weeks,” Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s Special Projects director, said in a news release.

“It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, a catastrophe will happen in a New York community. If we are without a robust spill fund, New York citizens could be left to shoulder the cost of the cleanup and damages, just as the citizens of Canada were a year and a half ago.”


Environmental advocates also asked Albany to fund emergency response separately from oil spill response and environmental cleanup.

“We welcome proposed funding for emergency response equipment, supplies and training for state and local emergency services personnel,” the coalition said in a news release.

“We strongly support the Assembly’s proposed legislation, which would keep that funding separate from the account that pays for remediation costs, as well as the damages associated with loss of life and property damage and economic losses suffered by individuals and businesses in the event of a spill.”

If response and spill monies are kept in a joint account, they contend, emergency cleanup costs could deplete the response fund, leaving the state without resources to remediate a spill.


Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, said New Yorkers assume “tremendous risk and little economic benefit” from the millions of gallons of explosive crude oil that “rumble through our cities and along our precious waterways every day.”

Inaction on the part of the federal government to adequately address the risks or improve oil-tank-car safety should not prevent state lawmakers from building the most robust spill fund possible, he said.

The joint call for heightened oil-spill resources came within a day of the release of reports from state inspections done at railroad yards in Albany and Buffalo.

State inspectors found 93 defects in tracks and crude oil cars, including seven critical safety defects that had to be fixed before cars could continue operation.

Inspections were done on tankers at a CSX rail yard in Buffalo and at the Canadian Pacific yard in Albany.

Reroute oil trains? History suggests it’s a long shot

Repost from The Star Tribune, Minneapolis MN

Reroute oil trains? History suggests it’s a long shot

By Jim Spencer, March 21, 2015 – 8:22 PM

Industry says reinforced cars on current routes are better than trying to avoid heavily populated areas.

A train carried Bakken oil past St. Paul. Federal rules say a single tanker car spill and fire would require a half-mile evacuation. Photo: Star Tribune

WASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Sen. Al Franken asked the Federal Railroad Administration to consider rerouting trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota so they do not pass through Minnesota’s biggest cities.

For Franken, the possibility of rerouting is an integral part of a comprehensive response to a recent rash of fiery oil train derailments that also includes stabilizing Bakken crude before it is loaded into stronger tanker cars.

For the nation’s powerful railroad lobby, however, rerouting is an unwarranted intrusion into a rail safety system that the industry says works.

Government-ordered rerouting of private rail traffic is not exactly a snowball in hell. It is more like a blizzard in Bahrain — possible, but unprecedented.

In Minnesota and around the country, “rerouting issues ought to be high on everyone’s agenda,” said rail safety expert Fred Millar, who fought unsuccessfully against railroads to move chlorine trains out of the District of Columbia. “But rerouting has been pushed off the table.”

Congress created the Federal Railroad Administration in 1966. In nearly half a century it does not appear to have forced any railroads to reroute trains around big cities for safety reasons, despite computer modeling that estimates routing changes could lower citizens’ risks to hazardous materials derailments by 25 to 50 percent and reduce casualties in an actual derailment by half.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) last week estimated that 326,170 state residents live within a half-mile of rail routes that carry oil from North Dakota across Minnesota. A half-mile is the federal emergency response evacuation zone required in the event of a single tanker car spill and fire. Multiple-car fires require up to a mile evacuation.

MnDOT data shows that 156,316 of the Minnesotans subject to evacuation in an oil train derailment live in the Twin Cities metro area. Most North Dakota oil trains enter Minnesota at Moorhead, then travel on BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway tracks into the Twin Cities before turning south along the Mississippi River and east across Wisconsin. A few oil trains travel through western Minnesota into Iowa.

Although the National Transportation Safety Board has backed rerouting in some circumstances, federal laws passed in 2007 grant private rail companies wide latitude in determining when and where trains should move, even trains carrying hazardous materials.

Canadian Pacific did not comment specifically on rerouting trains in Minnesota, but in an e-mail to the Star Tribune, the railroad said it has voluntarily complied with the federal government’s Crude by Rail Safety Initiatives and performed “route risk assessments.”

BNSF, the largest crude-by-rail hauler out of North Dakota, declined to comment on rerouting and referred questions to the rail industry’s major trade group, the Association of American Railroads.

An AAR spokesman said the industry opposes re-routing oil trains because the existing routes are the safest, even when they pass through urban areas. The industry supports more structurally secure tanker cars, track inspections and training of emergency response teams, said AAR media relations director Ed Greenberg.

BNSF also has invested heavily in track improvements to increase safety along its existing Minnesota oil train routes.

“We’re using routing technology called the Rail Corridor Risk Management System developed by the federal government,” Greenberg said. The technology measures 27 factors — including population density — to determine the safest route for moving hazardous materials, including crude oil, Greenberg said.

“Rerouting isn’t the answer,” he maintained. “All it has accomplished in the past is to force rail traffic through other communities on tracks not built to accommodate products like crude oil.”

The Federal Railroad Administration declined to discuss rerouting oil trains in Minnesota. In an e-mail statement, acting administrator Sarah Feinberg said of Franken’s request: “Over the past 18 months we have taken more than a dozen actions to enhance the safe transport of crude oil while working on a comprehensive rule that is now in its final stages of development.”

The state has little say in the rerouting debate. “The railroads are regulated by the federal government,” Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said. “The state does not have the authority to move, or reroute, rail lines.”

Rerouting trains away from the Twin Cities is not part of a rail safety initiative unveiled March 13 by Gov. Mark Dayton. That proposal calls for spending $330 million over 10 years, much of it in greater Minnesota, mainly to make road-rail crossings safer and to improve emergency response.

Latest Derailment: near Dubuque, Iowa, involving outdated tank cars

Repost from KCRG.com, Cedar Rapids, IA
[Editor: apologies for the video’s commercial ad, but otherwise a good report.  See also coverage with another photo and perhaps better information on Reuters.  – RS]

Fiery derailment near Dubuque involved outdated tank cars

DOT-111s prone to puncture, but still heavily used

By Erin Jordan, The Gazette, Feb 4, 2015

DUBUQUE COUNTY — A train derailment Wednesday near Dubuque that caused three tank cars to erupt in flames and three others to plunge into the icy Mississippi River involved outdated cars prone to punctures and spills.

The Canadian Pacific freight train headed southeast derailed around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in a remote area north of Dubuque. Eleven cars left the track, with 10 of those carrying ethanol, officials reported. Three of those cars caught fire and three slipped into the river.

An aerial shot of the derailed train north of Dubuque. (Charlie Schurmann/KCRG-TV9)

“I can confirm that DOT-111s were involved, how many of the derailed cars were DOT-111s I am not sure yet,” Canadian Pacific spokesperson Jeremy Berry reported Wednesday evening.

DOT-111s, black, tubed-shaped tank cars, make up about 70 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet. The outdated cars have been blamed for explosions and spills during derailments across North America. In the worst of these crashes, 47 people died when a runaway train of crude oil in DOT-111 cars exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 6, 2013.

In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a two-year phase out of DOT-111s for carrying some flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol, unless the tanks are retrofitted. The rail car supply industry has so far built more than 17,000 upgraded tankers that include thicker steel, stronger end caps and more protection for top fittings, Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, a trade group that acts on behalf of suppliers to North American railroads, told The Gazette in April. The group expect to have 55,000 by the end of 2015.

Tens of thousands of the cars are still in use because of the high volume of crude oil being shipped from the Bakken region or North Dakota, Montana and Canada.

Nine Iowa counties, including five along the Mississippi River in Eastern Iowa, see rail shipments of one million gallons or more of extra-flammable Bakken crude, The Gazette reported in June.

“You have these older cars that don’t meet the specs carrying these flammable liquids, this is what you’re going to get,” Albert Ratner, a University of Iowa associate professor of mechanical engineering who studies fires during train derailments, said about Wednesday’s crash.

No one was injured in the derailment. Because the tracks run between the river and a steep, snow-covered slope, fire crews were not able to put out the blaze Wednesday, the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office reported.

The derailment could have caused more damage in a metropolitan area, Ratner said. The snow also likely reduced the potential for nearby trees catching fire. But because DOT-111s are notorious for breaking apart in derailments, ethanol could have spilled from the tank cars into the Mississippi, Ratner said.

“You could have problems with it going downstream and spreading out the environmental effect,” he said.

Canadian Pacific officials were still gathering information Wednesday evening.

“Safety is the priority and we take these incidents seriously,” Spokeswoman Salem Woodrow wrote in an email. “CP’s emergency protocols were immediately enacted and all safety precautions and measures are being taken as our crews respond to the incident.”

Minnesota towns talking about dangerous rail crossings

Repost from DL-Online, Detroit Lakes, MN
[Editor:  The Minnesota Dept. of Transportation’s study of rail crossings and bridges identified and prioritized safety upgrades all over the state, and now has towns large and small reflecting on the bomb train threats in their midst.  This is the story from one such town, Detroit Lakes, population around 8500.  A similar study here in California would go far to wake up communities all along the rails.  – RS]

 Detroit Lakes in the Bakken oil danger zone

By DL News Staff, Jan 17, 2015

Forty to 44 trainloads a week of highly volatile Bakken crude oil come through Detroit Lakes via the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail corridor, each one a potential inferno if it derails and explodes.

Train collisions with trucks and cars often cause derailments, so making crossings safer is key to preventing a disaster such as the one that killed 47 people when a parked train rolled downhill and derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013.

That’s why the Minnesota Department of Transportation assessed all rail crossings on routes that carry Bakken oil, and prioritized the potential danger and need for improvements at each one.

The bad news is that the Washington Avenue crossing is the third highest priority crossing in the state, based on population living within a half-mile of the crossing, the number and type of vehicles that use the crossing, the accident history there, and its proximity to emergency services such as the fire hall, police station and hospital, among other factors.

The good news is that the crossing has gates and medians and is already considered as safe as a crossing can be, so no additional improvements are recommended.

When the city implemented a “no-train-horn” policy on the BNSF corridor a few years ago, it was required to implement top-of-the-line safety improvements at the crossings.

Compare that to the Sixth Street N.W.  crossing in Perham, which is the second-highest priority crossing in the state. It has gates, but the state is recommending a grade separation (an underpass or an overpass) be built at that site in the long term.

Same goes for the No. 1 priority crossing in the state, the 14th Street S. crossing in Benson. It has gates and cants, but grade separation is recommended.

In Detroit Lakes, the crossings at County Road 54 (the Hidden Hills Road) and the Brandy Lake crossing near Walmart did not make the list of priority crossings.

Both were improved earlier as part of the “whistle-free zone” initiative.

The Canadian Pacific crossing on Legion Road near Snappy Park now has no gates at all, only crossbucks, but gates are set to be installed there in the next few years.

The Canadian Pacific route through Detroit Lakes (including WE Fest) Callaway, Ogema, and Waubun is not considered a Bakken crude route for the purposes of the state study, though trains do carry oil cars on those tracks.

The BNSF crossing on Lake Street N. in Frazee is No. 29 on the state’s list of dangerous crossings. It has gates, but the crossing is listed as “adequate, but improvable” in the state study.

The Fifth Street W. crossing in Frazee is No. 36 on the priority list and the state recommends medians be installed as part of a long-term solution.

The Fourth Street crossing in Audubon is ranked No. 57 on the priority list, but the crossing is considered adequate and no improvements are recommended.

No crossings in Lake Park made the list.

Other crossings on the priority list include several in Wadena, New York Mills, Perham, Glyndon and Dilworth.

Minnesota doesn’t have any control over the type of rail traffic that moves across state lines, but it’s encouraging that it has been as proactive as possible in identifying dangerous crossings and recommending solutions.