Tag Archives: Dubuque IA

Rail agency’s new head draws kudos, despite string of crashes

Repost from The Boston Globe

Rail agency’s new head draws kudos, despite string of crashes

By Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, March 22, 2015
Smoke and flames erupted from railroad tank cars loaded with crude oil that derailed March 5 near Galena, Ill.
Smoke and flames erupted from railroad tank cars loaded with crude oil that derailed March 5 near Galena, Ill. Mike Burley / Telegraph Herald via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After a string of deadly train crashes, a pair of angry US senators stood in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal four months ago to denounce the Federal Railroad Administration as a ‘‘lawless agency, a rogue agency.’’

They said it was too cozy with the railroads it regulates and more interested in ‘‘cutting corners’’ for them than protecting the public.

In the past two months, photos of rail cars strewn akimbo beside tracks have rivaled mountains of snow in Boston for play in newspapers and on television.

But the reaction by Congress to the railroad oversight agency’s performance has been extremely positive recently.

Accolades were directed at its acting head, Sarah Feinberg, even though her two-month tenure in the job has coincided with an astonishing number of high-profile train wrecks:

  • Feb. 3: Six people were killed when a commuter train hit an SUV at a grade crossing in Valhalla, N.Y.
  • Feb. 4: Fourteen tank cars carrying ethanol jumped the tracks north of Dubuque, Iowa, and three burst into flames.
  • Feb. 16: Twenty-eight tank cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in West Virginia.
  • Feb. 24: A commuter train derailed in Oxnard, Calif., after hitting a tractor-trailer at a grade crossing.
  • March 5: Twenty-one tank cars derailed and leaked crude oil within yards of a tributary of the Mississippi River in Illinois.
  • March 9: The engine and baggage car of an Amtrak train derailed after hitting a tractor-trailer at a grade crossing in North Carolina.

At first glance, Feinberg seems an unlikely choice to replace Joseph Szabo, the career railroad man who resigned after five years in the job. She is 37, a former White House operative, onetime spokeswoman for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and, most recently, chief of staff to the US Department of Transportation secretary.

Nothing on her résumé says ‘‘railroad.’’

‘‘Sometimes it’s good to have an outside person,’’ said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who got a call from Feinberg immediately after the Feb. 3 crash in Valhalla. ‘‘She’s smart, she’s a quick study, she knows how to bring people together. I think she’s the right person for the job.’’

‘‘Whether she’s had a lifetime experience riding the rails or working on the rails, she knows how to get to the crux of things and move things forward,’’ said Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who arrived at the Feb. 16 crash shortly before Feinberg did. ‘‘I was very impressed.’’

Schumer calls Feinberg ‘‘hard-nosed’’ and says she isn’t worried if she ruffles some in an industry grown accustomed to a more languid pace of change.

After the Valhalla crash, Feinberg pulled together a team to come up with a better way to address an issue that kills hundreds of people at grade crossings each year.

‘‘We’re at a point where about 95 percent of grade-crossing incidents are due to driver or pedestrian error,’’ Feinberg said. ‘‘While I don’t blame the victims, this is a good example of a problem that needs some new thinking.’’

A month later, she called on local law enforcement to show a greater presence at grade crossings and ticket drivers who try to beat the warning lights. Next, the railroad agency says it plans ‘‘to employ smarter uses of technology, increase public awareness of grade crossing safety, and improve signage.’’

‘‘When it comes to the rail industry, that is lightning fast, and it’s really impressive,’’ said a congressional aide who focuses on transportation.

Grade-crossing deaths pale in comparison to the potential catastrophe that Feinberg says keeps her awake at night. ‘‘We’re transporting a highly flammable and volatile crude from the middle of the country, more than 1,000 miles on average, to refineries,’’ she said.

All of the recent crude-oil train derailments happened miles from the nearest town. But little more than a year ago, a CSX train with six crude-oil tank cars derailed on a river bridge in the middle of Philadelphia. And an oil-fueled fireball after a derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013 left 47 people dead.

The number of tank-car trains has expanded exponentially since the start of a production boom centered in North Dakota. Seven years ago, 9,500 tank cars of Bakken crude traveled by railroad. Last year, the number was 493,126. In 2013, an additional 290,000 cars transported ethanol.

Mindful of the potential for disaster, the White House tasked the Office of Management and Budget and the Transportation Department with figuring out how to safely transport the oil. At DOT, that fell to Feinberg, who had just signed on as chief of staff to Secretary Anthony Foxx.

‘‘We found her to be very hands-on, firm but fair, and ready to work with all stakeholders in making fact-based decisions,’’ said Ed Greenberg of the Association of American Railroads. ‘‘She is someone who has quickly recognized the challenges in moving crude oil by rail. And the freight rail industry is ready to work with her” in her new role at the Federal Railroad Administration, he said.

EPA: Illinois oil train derailment threatens Mississippi River

Repost from McClatchy DC News
[Editor: In addition to breaking news about the EPA’s order of “imminent and substantial danger,” this article is an excellent summary of five recent hazmat derailments in as many weeks.  – RS]

EPA: Illinois oil train derailment threatens Mississippi River

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, March 7, 2015
Oil Train Derailment Illinois
Smoke and flames erupt when a train derailed Thursday, March 5, 2015, near where the Galena River meets the Mississippi in Illinois. On Saturday, March 7, the Environmental Protection Agency said the spill posed an environmental threat to the region. MIKE BURLEY — AP/Telegraph Herald

— An oil train derailment and spill in northwest Illinois poses an “imminent and substantial danger” of contaminating the Mississippi River, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday.

The spill from the derailment, which occurred Thursday, also threatens the Galena River, a tributary of the Mississippi, and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, one of the most complex ecosystems in North America.

The EPA said it couldn’t estimate how much oil was spilled, but that the 21 cars of the 105-car BNSF Railway train that derailed contained 630,000 gallons of Bakken crude from North Dakota. Small fires from the wreckage continued to burn Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, another oil train derailed and caught fire near Gogama, Ontario, bringing to five the total number of fiery derailments in the U.S. and Canada in as many weeks.

The safety of trains carrying flammable materials has become an issue as the introduction of new drilling technology has allowed the development of crude oil deposits far from traditional pipelines, particularly in the so-called Bakken formation in North Dakota. Rail has become the preferred way to transport that crude to refineries, with railroads moving about 500,000 carloads of oil last year, according to industry estimates, up from 9,500 in 2008. One tank car holds 30,000 gallons.

But recent derailments have cast doubt on the effectiveness of safety efforts and suggest that no tank car currently in service on the North American rail system is tough enough to resist damage in relatively low-speed derailments.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is investigating the Illinois derailment, the train was traveling at just 23 miles per hour when it left the tracks, well below the maximum speed allowed. The damaged tank cars were newer CPC-1232 tank cars, which are supposed to be safer than previous ones, but have failed in at least four derailments this year and at least two in 2014.

Saturday’s derailment of a Canadian National Railway train took place about 23 miles from where another oil train derailed on the same rail line three weeks ago. The railroad said on Twitter Saturday afternoon that five cars were in a local waterway, some of them on fire. About 264,000 gallons of oil were released in the Feb. 14 derailment. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating both accidents.

The Illinois derailment is the second in three weeks on U.S. rails. On Feb. 16, 28 cars of a 107-car CSX train derailed in Mount Carbon, W.Va., and 19 caught fire. One house was destroyed and more than 100 residents were evacuated for four days. Many residents and first responders witnessed columns of fire rising hundreds of feet in the air as several of the tank cars ruptured from heat exposure.

A Canadian Pacific train carrying ethanol derailed on Feb. 4 along the Upper Mississippi north of Dubuque, Iowa. The EPA estimates about 55,000 gallons spilled, some of which burned and some of which was recovered from the icy river.

In a statement Saturday, BNSF said a temporary road was being built to the Illinois site, about four miles south of Galena, to help extinguish remaining fires and remove damaged cars. The railroad said it “sincerely regrets” the impact of the derailment.

“Protection of the communities we serve, the safety of our employees and protection of the environment are our highest priorities,” the railroad said.

The role of the newer CPC-1232 tank cars in recent derailments and fires raises new worries about the risk shipments of oil pose to the cities and towns through which they travel. The rail industry adopted the CPC-1232 tank cars as standard in 2011 for oil shipments, saying they were an improvement over the DOT-111 tank car, which had been in use for decades to haul a variety of commodities, including ethanol and crude.

But in spite of special reinforcement of exposed areas, the new cars are still prone to spilling their contents, even at relatively low speeds.

On Jan. 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent new regulations for oil and ethanol trains to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The rule-making package is expected to include a new tank car design that exceeds the CPC-1232 standard.

According to the department’s February report on significant rule-makings, the final rule is scheduled for publication on May 12.


Iowa Public Radio: Derailment in Dubuque–A Reminder of the Hazards of Transporting Oil by Rail

Repost from Iowa Public Radio
[Editor: For the most part, Canadian Pacific Railway spokesperson Andy Cummings is incredibly evasive, offering only general and unresponsive answers to the radio reporter interviewing him.  This is a 21-minute investigative report, well worth listening beyond the first interview with Mr. Cummings.  – R]

Derailment in Dubuque–A Reminder of the Hazards of Transporting Oil by Rail

By Emily Woodbury & Ben Kieffer, Feb. 13, 2015 
DOT-111s make up about 70 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet
DOT-111s make up about 70 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet | Bengt 1955 / flickr

With at least one million gallons of crude oil and ethanol passing through Iowa on a single freight train, derailments like the one last week a few miles from Dubuque are a major concern.

IPR_Dubuque-derailment“As ethanol dilutes into the water, it’s kind of that process that depletes the oxygen from the water,” says Kevin Baskins, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “That’s something we’re going to continue to monitor in the near future.”

Baskins says that the cleanup is going well so far, and they are in the process of sparging air, a process that involves evaporating the ethanol into the air rather that letting it dissolve into the water.

Erin Jordan, reporter with The Gazette and KCRG-TV9, says that derailments with DOT-111s can be especially problematic, as they are vulnerable to puncture in a derailment. DOT-111s are a type of train car commonly used to transport crude oil and ethanol, as well as other hazardous materials.

“A Johnson County commodity study showed, in addition to ethanol, there was also battery acid, anhydrous ammonia, pesticides, paint […] and so you can imagine there would be an environmental effect to those,” she says.

Right now, nine Iowa counties have extra large shipments of crude oil traveling through. While area residents are not notified of what materials are being hauled through their communities, Canadian Pacific Railway’s spokesperson Andy Cummings says they will answer specific questions from emergency responders.

“They can contact the railroad, and we will make that information available to them,” says Andy Cummings. “For security reasons, we do not share details of our dangerous goods movements publicly.”

Canadian Pacific Railway and BNSF Railway Co. also report large shipments of Bakken crude oil to Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“There has to be more with respect to openness and disclosure of the chemicals that are being transported,” says Baskins. “When a spill happens, it’s immediate that you have to alert the public, you have to have a plan in place to respond, and you can’t do that if you’re trying to figure out what’s in the chemical that actually spilled.”

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with Kevin Baskins and Erin Jordan, as well as David Cwiertny, associate faculty research engineer for the IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa, and Andy Cummings, spokesperson for Canadian Pacific Railway.

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.”