Tag Archives: Columbus OH

1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment

Repost from Vindi.com, Youngstown OH
[Editor:  Quoting Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for the Association of American Railroads: “We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard.”   – RS]

1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment, study finds

March 30, 2015 @ 12:05 a.m.

Almost 1.4 million Ohioans live within a half-mile of railroad lines where some of the most-volatile crude oil in North America rolls by each week, a Columbus Dispatch analysis has found.

Those people, about 12 percent of the state’s population, are at risk of being forced from their homes should a train hauling crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota run off the tracks.

Most trains that transport crude oil stay on their tracks, but derailments can be catastrophic.

A Bakken train that derailed in 2013 burst into flames, killing 47 people and destroying most of downtown Lac- Megantic, Quebec. Trains have wrecked in Ontario, as well as in Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, sending trains up in flames, prompting mass evacuations and, in some cases, obliterating homes.

A Bakken train derailed in West Virginia last month, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and spilling oil into the Kanawha River.

Teresa Mills, program director of the Buckeye Forest Council, said that both rail officials and the oil and gas industry should do more to keep people safe.

“Before they leave the fields, before they pump that oil into a train, they should be required to make that oil less explosive,” Mills said. “And if they can’t transport it without its being so explosive — if the Bakken is so volatile that it can’t be transported without being explosive — then they should leave it in the ground.”

The Bakken shale field stretches over northwestern North Dakota and into Montana and produces some of the most-desirable crude oil in the United States. It’s often less expensive than imported crude. It also requires less refining than other shale oils to be turned into diesel fuel or gasoline.

But the same things that make Bakken crude such a good fuel source also make it highly flammable.

Ohio, with its more than 5,300 miles of tracks, is a key junction between the Bakken region and East Coast oil refineries.

Millions of gallons of Bakken crude come through Ohio each week on trains, according to the reports that railroad companies submit to the state. Those reports show that from 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken are moving on Ohio’s railroad tracks every week.

That volume, combined with high-profile derailments, has prompted federal regulators, lawmakers, industrial lobbying groups and environmental nonprofit organizations to pay closer attention to how oil moves on rail lines throughout the country.

“If it could happen in these other places. It could surely happen right here in Ohio,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group. “It could happen in a rural area, but it could also happen in a highly populated metropolitan area like Columbus.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that trains carrying crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year for the next 20 years. Property damage could top $4 billion, the DOT analysis, completed last summer, found.

The department is preparing new rules on how crude oil is transported on tracks throughout the country. Last year, railroad companies voluntarily agreed to limit oil-train speeds to 40 mph in cities.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, a trade group that represents railroad companies, said that organization has lobbied for tougher restrictions on the tanker cars that carry crude oil.

“We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard,” Greenberg said.

But keeping people along crude-oil shipping lines safe will take a comprehensive approach, said Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank-car owners and manufacturers.

“The tank car is not the silver bullet. You cannot really design a tank car to withstand the derailment forces in a derailment, and so you can’t get the risk down to zero,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to look at the other factors, and that includes derailment prevention and ensuring [that] the materials have the proper packaging, and also educating the emergency-response personnel in the cities and villages along the right of way.”

Bearing failures, accidental decoupling: Rail industry blocking technology to prevent derailments

Repost from The Washington Times

Rail industry blocking technology to prevent derailments

By Robert Ahern – – Monday, September 8, 2014
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered railroads last month to give state officials specifics on oil train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents. North Dakota's State Emergency Response Commission unanimously voted to release the state's information Wednesday June 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered railroads last month to give state officials specifics on oil train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents. North Dakota’s State Emergency Response Commission unanimously voted to release the state’s information Wednesday June 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

America’s recent energy boom has made North Dakota the No. 2 oil-producing state behind Texas and has brought jobs and prosperity to the state and the region.

It has also brought increased rail travel as the oil is transported from Bakken shale fields. Unfortunately, increased rail traffic has coincided with a rise in the number of rail accidents, including derailments. The most recent came last December, when a moving train carrying crude oil struck a derailed train near Casselton, igniting a massive fireball and causing an evacuation. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

Despite the railroad industry’s many advances, some problems have persisted for years, frustrating rail engineers. Bearing failure that often leads to derailments is one. Accidental decoupling is another. So are poor truck designs.

The good news is that innovative companies from outside the railroad industry have devised solutions. The bad news is that these solutions have been shunned by an industry hostile to those outside its closed culture. This stonewalling puts American lives and freight at risk. Congress needs to intervene.

Consider the strange case of Columbus Castings, of Columbus, Ohio – a railroad industry outsider, despite being the nation’s largest steel foundry. Columbus Castings created a product called the Z-Knuckle, which prevents accidental uncoupling.

The Z-Knuckle met the railroad industry’s newly created standard for such devices. But in an inexplicable twist, because the Z-Knuckle was the only device that met the standard, the industry refused to authorize its use. Instead, it simply chose not to enforce its own standard.

Other nonsensical examples abound. Several companies, including Amsted Rail, Standard Truck Car, National Railway Equipment and A. Stucki Co., have created advanced trucks – the framework that holds a rail car’s four wheels – that are less likely to derail and use less energy, due to enhanced suspension. These have been rejected by the railroad industry.

Stage 8 Locking Fasteners of San Rafael, Calif., took on the issue of derailment caused by wheel-bearing failure, the nation’s third-largest cause of train derailments, according to a 2012 University of Illinois study.

Wheel bearings are the round, metal rods inside a rail car’s wheel assembly that help the wheels roll smoothly. Bearings fail because the screws holding the bearing end caps — which maintain proper tension in the bearing — vibrate loose after thousands of miles of service. This can lead to derailments.

The rail industry knows this is a serious problem. It has tried for 50 years to devise a reliable screw-locking technology of its own, but to no avail. The best locking system the rail industry has been able to come up with still allows a failure rate of 23 percent. This is unacceptable.

Rail industry engineers have blamed the wheel bearings themselves, theorizing that the material inside the bearings was breaking down, causing them to lose their clamp on the screws, which then vibrated loose.

That answer obscures the real problem and provided a windfall to the bearing-replacement companies that would stand to lose profits if a credible screw-locking system is devised.

In 2009, a better system was devised. Stage 8 invented the Cap Screw Locking System designed to keep rail car wheel screws from vibrating loose. But it ran into the mighty rail industry bureaucracy. All new products that companies want to market to the nation’s rail carriers must be approved by the American Association of Railroads (AAR), the freight rail industry’s powerful trade group.

The organization withheld approval for years, blocking the new product that would threaten the revenue stream of bearing-replacement suppliers, who are cozy with Big Rail.

Stage 8 continued to hack through the bureaucratic thicket and when daylight appeared, the AAR set up another hurdle: A field test intended to prove the device’s failure. Instead, after 150,000 miles of the AAR’s own, real-world testing on rail cars, hauling coal from Wyoming to Missouri, the locking device showed no failures; not a single screw was loosened. It was a complete success.

Many companies have created groundbreaking solutions to problems that have bedeviled the railroad industry for years. Congress should act on their behalf – and on behalf of the railroads themselves and their many users – to help make America’s railroads safer. The passage of legislation would repair the railroad’s broken system.

Congress should adopt legislation that would require the Federal Railroad Administration – the government agency that oversees the rail industry – to adopt and enforce mandatory safety standards that would ensure bearing failures, decoupling and other accidents do not happen. This would permit railroads to use any technology – from inside or outside the industry — that meets the standards.  This would lead to safer railways across the country – and fewer derailments in places like North Dakota.

Robert J. Ahern is director and executive vice president of Stage 8 Locking Fasteners Inc.