Tag Archives: CSX Transportation

What it’s like to live 50 feet from the oil-train tracks

Repost from WAVY-TV, Portsmouth, VA
[Editor: An excellent news video report.  Apologies for the commercial ad.  – RS]

The risk rolling on Hampton Roads rails

By Chris Horne, November 24, 2014

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The mother of 21-month-old Lily Murphy is concerned about her daughter’s safety whenever she plays in their back yard. That’s because CSX trains pass about fifty feet from their back fence, as often as five times a week.

“Nothing like that ever even crossed my mind that it could be carrying hazardous, dangerous material so it’s good that you brought that to light,” said mother Christina Murphy.

The trains haul Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Yorktown. It was a Bakken train derailment that caused a fatal inferno last year in Lac Megantic, Quebec, when nearly fifty people were killed in the explosion and fire. Another Bakken train derailed in Lynchburg last April and caused a major fire along the James River — that train was headed for Yorktown.

Photos: Train catches fire, derails in Lynchburg

Pat Calvert is a river keeper for the James River Association. His Lynchburg office is within a block of where the Lynchburg derailment occurred.

“Today, that same risk that existed on April 30, over six months later, is right here along the James River,” Calvert said. “That’s our concern: that we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Experts say Bakken is more flammable than other types of crude oil.

“A lot of people think about the Beverly Hillbillies and the bubbling crude oil, it’s not that kind of crude oil,” said Gregory Britt, director of the Technological Hazards Division of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “It’s probably a lot closer to gasoline, as far as the flammability.”

CSX filed paperwork with the Commonwealth detailing the shipments. The railroad confirmed to 10 On Your Side it runs two to five Bakken oil trains a week across Virginia. Each train is about a hundred cars in length, with a total payload of about three million gallons of oil.

Document: Paperwork filed by CSX

The route includes Richmond and eventually passes through Williamsburg, Newport News and York County.

“It’s highly volatile, with a low flash point, and it’s going right through highly populated areas,” Calvert said. “People don’t realize this is happening every day.”

What makes the shipments even more dangerous is the design of many of the older tank cars that haul it. Federal regulators, railroads and rail car makers agree the older cars, known as legacy DOT 111s, need safety upgrades. This specific aspect of rail transportation is regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). It’s up to PHMSA to create the rules for the modifications. PHMSA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Document: PHMSA’s proposed rule for flammable trains

“My industry likes the certainty of rule-making and has urged the Department of Transportation to move quickly on issuing a final rule,” said Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, the trade association that represents firms that make and service railroad tank cars.

CSX supports the safety modifications as well.

“The railroad industry supports to improve the tank car standards, to make sure that we’re moving the safest cars that we possibly can,” said CSX vice president Bryan Rhode, whose region includes Virginia.

PHMSA told WAVY News in an email that it is currently evaluating nearly 4,000 comments regarding safety upgrades for the older tank cars. A spokesman said the agency has a target date of March 31, 2015 to determine what upgrades are needed and make them mandatory.

Related link: Public comments regarding safety upgrades

Among several options, PHMSA is considering an extra jacket surrounding the cars to create a double wall, and protective guards on the top, ends and bottom. The measures would help prevent against ruptures and oil spillage.

The Quebec derailment involved about 1.3 million gallons of Bakken crude oil; the Lynchburg train leaked about 29,000 gallons.

“Lynchburg contributed to the larger discussion, nationally, about how we enhance safety for these types of trains,” Rhode said of CSX.

According to data from the US Department of Transportation, the amount of Bakken crude transported by rail has soared in recent years. In 2008, railroads hauled about 9,500 carloads. By 2013, the amount was 415,000 carloads, a 43-fold increase.

VDEM holds ongoing training for first responders to handle a potential incident involving Bakken crude.

“If there’s an event dealing with a spill, they should be able to dam it, dike it, they should be able to hold it in place for further assistance,” said Britt, who runs the training at key locations, including the York County safety services complex on Back Creek Road. “Then specialists can come in and environmental companies can clean it up.”

Christina Murphy hopes that training never has to be utilized, as she enjoys time in her yard with Lily in Newport News.

“I guess we should think about what we would do here, if something like that would happen, that’s pretty scary,” she said.

Oil trains and schools don’t mix

Repost from The Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY
[Editor: See also Danger 101: Oil trains pass near Rockland schools and Groups say oil tanker cars on trains put Mid-Hudson communities, schools, infrastructure at risk.  – RS]

Oil and schools don’t mix, enviro groups say

Steve Orr, November 20, 2014
Oil train Pittsford
A train of crude-oil tank cars passing through the village of Pittsford | (Photo: Steve Orr, Democrat and Chronicle)

About 350 New York state schools, including at least 63 in Monroe County, lie within a mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying volatile crude oil, a coalition of environmental and other advocacy groups said Thursday.

The groups urged state and federal official to bolster emergency planning at those educational facilities and to require crude-oil trains to travel more slowly near schools.

“We are deeply concerned about the growing number of crude oil rail cars passing through the Hudson Valley and across New York State every day,” said Claire Barnett, executive director of the Albany-based Health Schools Network. “A catastrophic event, should it happen near an occupied school, could devastate a community for a generation or more.”

The good news locally is that districts in Monroe County near CSX Transportation’s two freight-rail corridors say they have emergency plans in place and are prepared to shelter or evacuate in the event that became necessary.

“I’m impressed with what our county schools are doing – on paper. I really am. It sounds fantastic,” said Judy Braiman of Empire State Consumer Project, one of several groups that helped with the report released Thursday.

School officials told Braiman they had fully developed emergency-evacuation plans, and staff in the affected schools were tutored in those plans. Braiman said, though, she could not be sure if that was true of every school. “My only question is, did it get down to the level of the teachers, the parents and the children?” she said.

Rail shipment of crude oil has become a hot-button topic around the country since a surge in shipments from shale-oil fields in the northern Plains. CSX has said 20 to 35 oil trains traverse upstate New York each week, headed for Albany and from there to East Coast refineries.

The shipments raise concern because this particular crude oil is highly volatile. Several oil trains have derailed and caught fire; most tragically, a train rolled downhill out of control and derailed in Lac-Megantic in July 2013, exploding into a huge conflagration that killed 47 people and destroyed several blocks of the small Canadian city’s downtown.

Federal officials say locations within a half-mile of a derailment site should be prepared to evacuate in event of a serious accident, and everyone within a mile could be in danger.

Twenty-six of the 63 Monroe County schools noted by the environment groups are within a half-mile of the tracks, according to data the groups released. Included were schools in the Churchville-Chili, Gates-Chili, Rochester, Penfield, Pittsford, East Rochester and Fairport districts. Several religious-affiliated and charter schools were included as well.

All 63 Monroe schools noted by the groups are near the CSX mainline tracks that run through the city of Rochester and adjoining suburbs. As the Democrat and Chronicle has reported, however, there is evidence that CSX prefers to route oil trains on a separate track that runs through Monroe County’s southern suburbs.

At least four schools located near those tracks are omitted from group’s list and maps, though Braiman said she did contact districts in which those schools are located.

Indiana TV investigation: Through Your Backyard

Repost from WANE TV15 – Fort Wayne, Indiana
[Editor: Regarding railroad hazmat notification … significant quote by a County Emergency Management Director in Indiana: “The first I heard about it was from you.  I believe if the state was aware of that, I would have that information.”  Excellent video on this 2-month investigation.  Apologies for commercial content on the video…. – RS]

Through Your Backyard

By Adam Widener, October 30, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The volume of crude oil being shipped via railroads is rising across the country. Much of it comes from North Dakota and is heading for the east coast. It’s a path that funnels millions of gallons directly through northeast Indiana every week.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said the increase in crude-by-rail poses a greater risk for incidents and recently ordered railroad companies to tell each state where and how often trains are hauling large amounts of the energy product.  Federal officials cited several oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada as a reason for the order.

But some emergency responders in northeast Indiana had no idea about the growing threat traveling through their backyard, until 15 Finds Out began asking questions.

Energy independence

To understand the severity of that communications gap, one must first understand the reason for the rising number of oil trains.  More and more petroleum crude oil is being drilled at the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota.  Rail companies say it’s traveling to refineries in high quantities via the most economical option: rail.

“There’s an important development happening in this country and it’s happening here in this community,” said Dave Pidgeon, public relations manager for Norfolk Southern Corp. “We are moving towards greater energy independence.”

Quebec Oil Train explosion 15 Finds Out Through your backyard
A fireball shoots into the air following a deadly oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada in 2013.

Major incidents

But since the beginning of 2013, oil train derailments have caused major problems across the U.S. and Canada. One organization highlights 10 such accidents in that time frame.

On April 30, a CSX train carrying 105 crude oil tank cars derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia.  The highly flammable crude oil caught fire.  Emergency crews evacuated 350 people from their homes. Up to 30,000 gallons of petroleum crude oil spilled into a nearby river.

The most notable oil train derailment happened in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada on July 5, 2013.  An unmanned, runaway oil train carrying crude oil derailed, exploded, caught fire, and killed 47 people.  2,000 people had to be evacuated from the town.

“Imminent hazard”

The dramatic rise in oil trains combined with recent derailments caused the USDOT to file an emergency order in May.  Federal officials cited an “unsafe condition” or “unsafe practice” for crude-by-rail causing an “imminent hazard.”

The DOT ordered railroad companies to begin reporting to each state’s Emergency Response Commission. Beginning in June, railroads were to tell state officials the expected movement and frequency of trains transporting 1 million gallons or more of crude oil from North Dakota.

Norfolk Southern Corp. and CSX Transportation have lines in northeast Indiana. A media spokesperson for each company said they’re following the emergency order.

“We share information with the state emergency management services across our network,” said Tom Livingston, CSX’s regional vice president for government affairs in the Midwest.

“Be as well-informed as possible”

The emergency order makes other important recommendations. It says state and local first responders should “be as well-informed as possible as to the presence of trains carrying large quantities of Bakken crude oil” in their area. That way, they have “reasonable expectations” to “prepare accordingly for the possibility of an oil train accident.”

15 Finds Out uncovered that wasn’t the case for some first responders in northeast Indiana.  On October 1, 15 Finds Out spoke with Michael “Mick” Newton, emergency management director for Noble County. At the time, Newton had never heard of the emergency order and didn’t know about the increase in crude-by-rail in his county. 

“The first I heard about it was from you,” Newton said.  “I believe if the state was aware of that, I would have that information.”

15 Finds Out obtained proof that the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) actually did have that information and delayed passing it along. I-Team 8 at our sister station, WISH-TV in Indianapolis, recently got a copy of an email sent to several emergency management directors across northern Indiana.

The email included Norfolk Southern’s oil train route maps and how many of its oil trains travel through 12 northern Indiana counties with more than 1 million gallons every week.

Norfolk Southern sent IDHS that information in a letter dated June 3, 2014. But IDHS didn’t forward it to EMA directors until October 8, ironically after 15 Finds Out and I-Team 8 began asking questions.

The Federal Railroad Administration has noted those crude-by-rail stats are public.  Still, IDHS denied a request for copies and said that information could hurt public safety by creating a vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

Millions of gallons “through your backyard”

Click image to see full graphic.
Northfolk Southern weekly shipments: Click image to see full-screen graphic.

Because of legal concerns, 15 Finds Out is not releasing Norfolk Southern’s oil train exact routing maps.  Noble and DeKalb Counties have 13 to 24 trains carrying a million gallons or more of crude oil every week. Whitley and Allen Counties have between 0 and 4 trains carrying a million gallons or more every week.

Leaders with CSX were more forthcoming with oil train information. Livingston said 20 to 35 trains carrying a million gallons or more of North Dakota Crude Oil travel on its Garrett line every week.

15 Finds Out shared those stats with Newton on October 1.

“Nobody’s come up with, other than you, of any information like that to me,” he said.

It was a similar story in DeKalb County. EMA Director Roger Powers said he hadn’t received any crude-by-rail notifications from IDHS until, ironically, the day of his interview with 15 Finds Out.

Click image to see full-screen graphic.
CSX weekly shipments: Click image to see full-screen graphic.

“It’s always good for us to know,” Powers said. “When we don’t know, that’s when we get caught sometimes and have to pull back and regroup and think about how we are going to attack this.”

“Internal delay”

When asked why it took IDHS four months to give first responders the oil train notifications, public information officer John Erickson released a statement that said in part:

There was an internal delay at IDHS with respect to the first notification the agency received regarding the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) order. This notification was not evaluated as efficiently as it could have been, and as a result, was not forwarded to the local responders as quickly as IDHS would have liked.

The statement said the agency has since modified its evaluation process of these notifications and will, in the future, get them to local emergency responders as quickly as possible.

There was an apparent confusion at IDHS regarding the oil train notification. The statement said officials weren’t sure if it was the particular notification required under the DOT order. Since IDHS considers the information to be highly sensitive, the agency said the documents had to be “carefully evaluated regarding which agencies had a need to know.”

Read the entire statement from IDHS

In the end, Newton argued that his department’s response would be the same whether they knew how many oil trains pass through or not.  Despite the four month delay, both Newton and Powers are each thankful they now have the proactive information. They are now passing those stats down to first responders, like Auburn Fire Chief Mike VanZile.

“Since you said something to me I’ve done some research, and now I think through your efforts and some other folks’ efforts, now the state has given our EMA director, homeland security office, some vital information that he has passed on to me,” VanZile told 15 Finds Out. “Millions of gallons going across these rails, that’s a huge concern.”

15 Finds Out continues its investigative series “Through Your Backyard” next week. Tune in Thursday, November 6 at 6:00 p.m. to hear what the railroad companies and U.S. Department of Transportation are doing to make crude-by-rail safer.

NTSB Investigating Lynchburg, Virginia Crude Oil Derailment

Repost from The Legal Examiner

NTSB Investigating Virginia Crude Oil Derailment

Posted by Patrick Austin  |   May 27, 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is taking charge of the investigation of an oil train on April 30 that was hauling crude oil through Lynchburg, Virginia (VA). However, it will be many months before any conclusions are reached and recommendations issued.

According to Investigator Jim Southworth, these incidents happen fast but they take a long time to go through. At this point, the NTSB is gathering facts before moving into analysis. Depending upon how complex the oil accident was, it could take 6-18 months before the report is completed.


Personnel from the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Lynchburg’s fire and police departments, labor unions, and CSX Transportation are helping with the investigation, he said.

Several working groups will look at train operations, communications, mechanics, the track and several other areas. These groups then will meet each day to share the information they glean. The preliminary investigation has shown that the train had 105 cars of crude oil and was traveling under the 25 MPH speed limit when the train derailed. Three cars were dumped into the James River.

A total of 13 cars on the CSX train derailed on April 30 at 2:30 PM as it rolled through Lynchburg. Three tankers broke out in flames and nearby residences and businesses had to be evacuated.

CSX removed all of the cars that did not derail, in coordination with local first responders. The railroad also is now doing an environmental assessment that includes air, water and land-based assessments of potential environmental effects.