Tag Archives: First Responder Training

As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

Repost from Reuters

As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

By Edward McAllister, Mar 23, 2015 4:45pm EDT
Firefighters' jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Firefighters’ jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

(Reuters) – Volunteers at the Galena, Illinois, fire department were hosing down the smoldering wreck of a derailed BNSF oil train on the east bank of the Mississippi River on March 5 when a fire suddenly flared beyond their control. Minutes later, the blaze reached above the treetops, visible for miles around.

“They dropped the hoses and got out” when the flames started rising, said Charles Pedersen, emergency manager for Jo Daviess County, a rural area near the Iowa border which includes Galena. “Ten more minutes and we would have lost them all.”

No one was hurt in the fire, which burned for days, fed by oil leaking from the ruptured tank cars. But an increase in explosive accidents in North America this year highlights the risks that thousands of rural fire departments face as shipments of oil by rail grow and regulators call for improved train car standards.

Nearly two years after a crude oil train derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, there are no uniform U.S. standards for oil train safety procedures, and training varies widely across the country, according to interviews with firefighters and experts in oil train derailments and training.

About 2,500 fire departments are adjacent to rail lines transporting oil in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa alone, according to figures provided by the Department of Transportation, but no nationwide statistics exist. The DOT does not know which of these fire departments are in need of training, a spokesman said.

The scenario concerns experts who say more needs to be done for sparsely equipped, rural, mostly volunteer-run fire departments to prepare as oil train accidents increase. Already this year, four oil trains have derailed and exploded in North America, double last year’s tally.

No deaths have occurred as a result of U.S. derailments. Oil trains have been a consistent feature on U.S. rails only since 2009.

“Is it acceptable that we just let these fires burn out?” said Thomas Miller, board member of the National Volunteer Fire Council and principal at the National Fire Protection Association, which draws up training guidelines.

“We have to have a comprehensive plan to identify training levels required and to make sure training is available,” he said.


Railroads have increased safety training in the nearly two years since Lac-Megantic, a period during which nine trains have derailed and exploded in North America.

Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern Corp and other railroads have bolstered their own network of hundreds of hazardous-materials experts and equipment centers dotted around the country that react if an accident occurs.

The major North American railroads last year spent $5 million to send more than 1,500 first responders on a new three-day oil train program in Pueblo, Colorado, the first site dedicated to oil derailment training in the United States.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is developing an oil derailment training module, expected to be completed in May.

But PHMSA funding to state and tribal governments for hazmat training has declined from $21.1 million in 2010 to $20.2 million last year, even as oil derailments increased. Moreover, interviews with fire departments across the country reveal stark disparities in training.

In Galena, where up to 50 oil trains roll through each week, the fire department had received some basic hazmat training provided by BNSF last year. But when the train came off the rails in March, Galena firefighters were still waiting for a slot at the Pueblo, Colorado facility.

“It was a bit cart-before-the-horse,” said Galena volunteer fire chief Randy Beadle. “It just happened that we had an incident before we could get the guys out there” to Pueblo, he said.

It is unclear what exactly the Galena firefighters might have done differently given proper training and greater resources, but other firefighters who have received extensive training say it is vital to countering an oil train blaze safely.

In Casselton, North Dakota, the fire department has been “bombarded” with training after an oil train collided with a derailed soybean train in December 2013, setting 21 oil cars ablaze and causing a fireball whose heat was felt from over a quarter of a mile away, said Casselton’s volunteer fire chief, Tim McLean.

Before that accident, McLean and his 28-strong fire team “had no idea oil trains were that explosive,” said McLean, a corn and soy farmer. Since then, eight firefighters from the department have been to the Pueblo site for intensive training and more will attend this year.

In Pembroke, Virginia, where CSX rerouted some crude oil trains last month after a derailment damaged its track in West Virginia, the volunteer department has had no specific oil training, said fire department president Jerry Gautier.

“We have reached thousands of people for hydrogen and ethanol training, but the oil program is in its infancy,” said Rick Edinger, a member of the hazardous material committee at the International Fire Chiefs Association. “It could take a couple of years to roll out.”

Meanwhile, oil train accidents remain at the front of people’s minds in Galena, especially for Pedersen, the emergency manager in Jo Daviess county, one of the busiest areas in Illinois for oil trains.

“Every time I hear a train go by now, I think a little differently about it,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

KFBK News Radio: How safe is Sacramento?

Repost from KFBK News Radio, Sacramento CA
[Editor: Two part series, both shown below.  Of particular interest: a link to 2014 California Crude Imports by Rail.  Also, at the end of the article an amazing Globe and Mail video animation detailing the moments leading up to the devastating explosion in Lac-Megantic Quebec.  – RS]

Part 1: How Safe is Sacramento When it Comes to Crude-by-Rail?

By Kaitlin Lewis, January 16, 2015

Two different railroad companies transport volatile crude oil to or through Sacramento a few times a month. The trains pass through Truckee, Colfax, Roseville, Sacramento and Davis before reaching a stop in Benicia. Last week, a train carrying the chemical Toluene derailed in Antelope.

KFBK’s Tim Lantz reported that three cars overturned in the derailment. There was initially some concern about a possible Hazmat leak.

Union Pacific Railroad insists over 99 percent of hazardous rail shipments are handled safely.

Most of the oil shipped in California is extremely toxic and heavy Canadian tar sands oil, but an increasing portion of shipments are Bakken crude, which has been responsible for major explosions and fires in derailments.

Firefighters around the region are being trained on how to respond to crude oil spills.

However, Kelly Huston with the California Office of Emergency Services says 40 percent of the state’s firefighters are volunteers.

“They’re challenged right from the get-go of being able to respond to a catastrophic event like a derailment, explosion or spill of a highly volatile compound like crude oil,” Huston said.

Since 2008, crude by rail has increased by 4000 percent across the country.

By 2016, crude-by-rail shipments in California are supposed to rise by a factor of 25.

Union Pacific Railroad hosted a training session in November 2014.

Six out of the eight state fire departments listed as having completed the course confirm they were there.

“We were trained in November,” Jerry Apodaca, Captain of Sac City Fire, said.

When asked when he received the first notification of crude oil coming through, he said he didn’t have an exact date, but that it was probably a month or two prior to the training — in September or October.

Apodaca says the U.S. Department of Transportation requires railroads to notify state officials about Bakken oil shipments.

“Basically it just says in this month’s time, there should be 100,000 gallons going through your community. So it didn’t really specify when, or where, or how many cars or what it looks like,” Apodaca said.

And Paul King, rail safety chief of the California Public Utilities Commission, says it’s not easier to distinguish which lines transport Bakken oil through an online map.

“It was hard to interpret and it was too gross. Basically, the whole state of California on an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper with what appears to be a highlighter pen just running through the counties,” King said.

See a map of North American crude by rail.
California rail risk and response.
2014 Crude Imports by Rail

PART 2: How Sacramento’s First Responders Will Deal with Oil Spill

KFBK told you Sacramento’s firefighters were being trained on how to respond to a crude-by-rail derailment after shipments had already been going through the region in Part 1.

In Part 2, KFBK’s Kaitlin Lewis will tell you how Sacramento’s first responders will handle a possible oil spill, and what caused that train derailment along the Feather River Canyon.

It’s called a bomb train.

On July 6, 2013, 47 people were killed in Canada when a 73-car train carrying crude oil derailed.

About 30 buildings in the  Lac-Mégantic downtown district were destroyed. The fire burned for 36 hours.

“If we have a derailment and fire of crude oil, fire departments are going to throw large quantities of water and foam to cool the tanks and to put a blanket on the liquid that’s on the ground to help smother that fire,” Mike Richwine, assistant state fire marshal for Cal Fire, said.

Richwine says that’s the only operation for a spill/fire.

In December, 11 cars carrying corn derailed along the Feather River Canyon.

Paul King, rail safety chief of the California Public Utilities Commission reveals the cause was a rail line break.

“That was probably the most concerning accident because that just as well could have been one of the Bakken oil trains, the corn, you know, ran down the bank. It was heavy, and it consequently does put more force on the rail, but it’s about the same weight as an oil train,” King said.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific says California has more than 40 track inspectors and 470 track maintenance employees.

“In addition to that, cutting edge technology that we put in to use for track inspection. One of those technologies is our geometry car. It measures using lasers and ultrasonic waves, the space between the two rails — makes sure that space is accurate,” Hunt said.

But Kelly Huston, deputy director of California’s Office of Emergency Services says the real challenge is preparedness in remote areas like the Feather River Canyon, which is designated as a High Hazard Area due to historic derailments.

“In some more metropolitan areas, your response may be quicker and they’ll have that gear and the training and knowledge of, like, how do we fight this kind of fire? And in some areas, like in the more remote areas like we talked about in the Feather River Canyon there’s going to be perhaps maybe volunteer firefighters that have the basic equipment,” Huston said.

The Feather River feeds the California Water Project, which provides drinking water for millions of Californians. The nearest first responder is Butte County Fire Department, which is approximately 31 miles away.

Albany NY Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer

Repost from The Press Republican, Plattsburgh, NY
[Editor: the safety improvements showcased here are far from adequate, nevertheless, it’s a good update on conditions in New York.  Sen. Schumer is absolutely right – the DOT-111 tank cars should be taken out of service immediately… and not just in New York.  And Bakken crude should be stabilized before it is transported (not just conditioned) … just as it is in Texas.  – RS]

Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer

Lohr McKinstry, December 6, 2014

LEWIS — New state regulations on crude-oil trains should help make them safer, Emergency Services officials from Essex and Clinton counties said recently.

State agencies have implemented 66 actions designed to strengthen standards, regulations and procedures to make the transport of crude oil by rail and water in New York safer and to improve spill preparedness and response.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a status report outlining the progress made by multiple state agencies after they were directed to evaluate the state’s capacity to prevent and address crude-oil accidents.

Local leaders have been concerned about the 100-car-plus oil trains moving through Clinton and Essex counties as the crude oil extracted in North Dakota arrives via Canadian Pacific Railway trains.

The oil is on its way to the Port of Albany, where it is stored for transport to various refineries.


Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said he sees the new procedures as a safety benefit to the North Country.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he told the Press-Republican. “We’re in a better position than we were a year ago.”

There’s been concern the trains could derail, and the oil burn or explode, as it has in other regions, and Jaquish praised Canadian Pacific for trying to make the tracks and tank cars safer.

“Upgrading the DOT-111 tank cars, rail replacement and maintenance, and specialized training are all beneficial to safety.

“Canadian Pacific has been helping us with training, hands-on-experience, that first responders need for these situations.”


The tank cars are not owned by Canadian Pacific but by oil companies and vendors, and as a federal common carrier, the railroad is required to transport them.

Both the railroad and federal regulators have pushed for upgrades to the DOT-111 single-shell cars or a switch to the stronger DOT-109 or 112 cars.

“In almost any situation we get, we will be doing evacuations,” Jaquish said. “We’ve been working with Clinton County on planning and implementation.”

Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said any improvements to the transport of oil cars are welcome.

“At the end of the day, what they’ve done is good, no question,” Day told the Press-Republican. “Any regulatory move to make the DOT-111 cars safer is a plus. It’s a long time coming.”

One problem is that there are thousands of DOT-111 tank cars still in service, he said.

“There are so many of them (DOT-111 cars) out there on the tracks. They’re not going to stop moving the oil before they fix the cars. The oil is not going to stop coming any time soon.”


Day said enhanced state regulations on oil shipments will be helpful.

“If there are changes that are pushed upon them (shippers), it can only make it safer. We’ve seen some of the benefits of the state’s work with regard to planning,” he said.

“We have guidance now on firefighting potential on dealing with these things. There are so many variables. Multiple cars of this crude oil on fire are a different animal.”

He said that, thanks to a donation, they now have the foam needed for such fires. The expensive product costs $30,000 for 1,000 gallons of foam but puts out crude-oil-based fires.


The North Dakota Industrial Commission has proposed draft regulations to remove the volatile gases from the oil before it is shipped, and Day said that provision is a good one.

“One of the things that makes the Bakken crude so volatile are the gases in the oil. The gas works its way out and is stuck in the head space of the car. If they breech, there’s flammable gas; cars that aren’t breeched and heat up, the gas could expand and be a problem.

“Removing that gas is a possibility before they put in the cars and ship it. If they could do that, it’s a big win.”


Cuomo called for the federal government to mandate tank-car upgrades or replacement.

“The federal government plays a vital role in regulating this industry, and Washington must step up in order to expedite the implementation of safer policies and rules for crude-oil transport,” he said in the release.

The governor said the oil-production industry has resisted stronger tank-car standards and regulations requiring companies to reduce the volatility of crude before shipment.

A new report from the Brattle Group for the Railroad Supply Institute, a trade group, showed that a proposed federal rule to upgrade rail-tank cars could cost $60 billion.

According to the report, the high price tag is largely due to the costs associated with potential modifications to tank cars, early retirement of existing tank cars, temporarily using trucks instead of rails for transport and lost service time for tank cars under modification or awaiting modification.


U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has also come out against use of DOT-111 cars.

“These outmoded DOT-111 tank cars … are ticking time bombs that need to be upgraded ASAP,” the senator said in a news release.

“That is why for two years, since the tragedy at Lac-Megantic, I have pushed federal regulators to phase out and retrofit these cars.

“As a result of our efforts, the federal Department of Transportation has put a proposal on the table that could start taking these cars off the tracks within two years, as well as restrict the speeds at which these trains operate.”

On July 6, 2013, a 74-tank-car train carrying Bakken light crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and the tank cars exploded, killing 47 people, destroying 30 buildings and spilling 1.5 million gallons of heavy crude oil.

That disaster was followed by oil-train-explosion derailments in Alabama, North Dakota, Illinois and New Brunswick, Canada.

What they are thinking and planning: Crude By Rail Conference & Expo

Repost from Railway Age
[Editor: A Benicia Independent reader sent me an email notification of this Conference, suggesting that it might be instructive for one of us to attend.  Anyone with time and money available to go?  – RS]

June 12 & 13, 2014  |  Key Bridge Marriott  |  Arlington, VA
· Moving CBR Profitably — and Safely ·

Crude by Rail (CBR) is a rapidly growing source of traffic for the railroads, as well
as a key driver of new freight car construction for carbuilders and component suppliers. Because of recent serious accidents, CBR is also under heavy scrutiny by safety and regulatory agencies.

Railway Age’s Crude By Rail Conference & Expo focuses on moving CBR not just safely,
but also profitably.

Speakers include:
CBR Speakers675
Join these and other industry experts to discuss:
•  Safety & Regulations •  New-Gen Tank Cars
•  Traffic Trends •  First Responder Training
•  Tank Car Financing & Leasing •  Insurance & Liability

Who should attend?
•  Railroad transportation & operating personnel •  Government personnel
•  Carbuilders and component suppliers •  Crude oil producers & refiners
•  Consultants •  First responders
View the full agenda now, including confirmed speakers and topics.

Gold SponsorGenesee & Wyoming Supporting organizationsRailWorks   The Greenbrier Companies  AAR
Contact us:   Tel. 212.620.7208 / 212.620.7205 | conferences@sbpub.com | @RailwayAgeEvent