Tag Archives: High Hazard Flammable Trains (HHFTs)

Union Pacific aims to be first railroad to haul liquefied natural gas

Repost from The Omaha World-Herald

Union Pacific aims to be first railroad to haul liquefied natural gas

By Russell Hubbard, March 19, 2015 1:00 am
Union Pacific

Union Pacific Railroad has applied for permission to haul liquefied natural gas, which would add another combustible cargo to a U.S. rail network already being criticized for transporting ethanol and crude oil through populated areas.

The Omaha-based railroad said the application for a permit from the Federal Railroad Administration is in response to a request for liquefied natural gas transportation from an existing customer. Union Pacific operates 32,000 miles of track in the western United States, which is home to many natural gas production and storage installations.

If Union Pacific is granted the permit, it would be a first. The Association of American Railroads said none of the six other Class I freight railroads are hauling liquefied natural gas.

The permit application coincides with a major bump in railway ethanol and crude oil cargo, which has attracted heavy opposition after a fatal oil train explosion in Canada in 2013 and three oil train fires so far this year in the United States and one in Canada.

“The timing for U.P. is awkward given recent accidents and mounting public apprehension,” said Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation sciences professor at Chicago’s DePaul University. “I am sure there will be pressure for a go-slow approach on it, but the fact is that railroads are the best bet to get significant amounts of natural gas to market given the decades it takes to permit and construct pipelines.”

Details about the application are secret. A Federal Railroad Administration spokesman said application and supporting materials are not available for public inspection during the review process. “Federal law limits our disclosure” of which customer is requesting transport of liquefied natural gas, Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said.

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, however, is a well-known commodity. Liquefying the fuel — which most often moves via pipeline, truck and ship — compacts it enormously. That makes it attractive to shippers and those who want to store large quantities. Liquefied gas takes up 1/600th the space of the gaseous form. The liquid gas can then be converted back into its gaseous state for use or further shipment in pipelines.

Union Pacific’s permit request comes as U.S. natural gas production is climbing, up 37 percent since 2000. Part of the boom is the conversion of coal-burning electric plants to natural gas. There also are 128,000 vehicles in the United States running on compressed natural gas, up 12 percent since 2010.

“It has only been a matter of time for the railroads to get in on the natural gas boom,” Schwieterman said. “It is a fast-growing industry with fast-growing logistical needs.”

But some people are holding back. Eddie Scher, an officer with ForestEthics, a California-based lobbying group that advocates the gradual elimination of fossil fuels, said that transporting another flammable cargo on the rail network is a very poor idea.

“The rail system in America was built to connect population centers, with trains going through every downtown in the country,” Scher said. “It was never designed to haul hazardous materials, and in fact, you could say that if you were to design a rail system for hazardous materials, the one we have is the opposite of the one you would design.”

Scher said federal safety rules are already out of date for oil trains and their tank cars, with millions of gallons of oil a day riding the rails, up from nearly zero only five years ago, courtesy of skyrocketing production from new fields in Montana and North Dakota.

“To entertain the idea of new and potentially more dangerous cargo makes no sense at all,” Scher said.

Hauling dangerous cargo is nothing new for Union Pacific and other railroads, which haul chlorine, explosives and sulfur.

Safety is a main point of emphasis for every cargo, said Hunt, the Union Pacific spokesman. The national train accident rate has fallen 42 percent since 2000 and 79 percent since 1980, according to the railroad association. At Union Pacific, derailments have fallen about 7 percent since 2010, to three for every million miles of train travel.

“We have the same goal as everyone else, and it’s in the best interest of our customers, shareholders and the communities where our employees and their families live, work and play to operate as safely as possible,” Hunt said.

LATEST DERAILMENT: Train cars hauling methanol derail in central Texas, homes evacuated

Repost from KCBD, Lubbock TX
[Editor:   A bit more info on the Bosque County derailment at WacoTrib.comMethanol is flammable (flash point is 11 °C [52 °F]) and potentially explosive.  See more on methanol.    – RS]

Train cars hauling methanol derail in central Texas

Mar 21, 2015 5:34 PM PDT

KXXV News Channel 25, ABC

Texas authorities are evacuating homes after a dozen train cars derailed near Valley Mills, including five tanker cars carrying methanol.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Trooper D.L. Wilson says no injuries or fires have been reported from the Saturday evening accident. He says one or two of the methanol-hauling tanks have small leaks.

Wilson says that as a precaution, about 10 homes within a thousand feet of the derailment have been evacuated.

He says it’s unclear what caused the derailment, but that heavy rain has been falling in the area. He says the rain is making it difficult for vehicles to get to the scene to unload material from the derailed cars, which also include seven flatbeds carrying oil-well pipes.

He says a hazardous materials crew is on the scene.

History lesson: five Canadian train disasters

Repost from The Winnepeg Free Press

Trending that caught Doug’s eye: Canadian rail disasters

By: Doug Speirs, 10/11/2014
Bill Sandford / The Canadian Press filesA derailment in Mississauga caused explosions and the release of chlorine gas. More than 250,000 people fled. At the time, it was North America�s largest-ever peacetime evacuation.
A derailment in Mississauga caused explosions and the release of chlorine gas. More than 250,000 people fled. At the time, it was North America�s largest-ever peacetime evacuation. CP – Bill Sandford / The Canadian Press files

As train derailments go, it was something to see.

Last Tuesday, a 100-car CN freight train carrying dangerous goods derailed in central Saskatchewan, sending plumes of thick black smoke billowing into the sky and forcing residents of a nearby hamlet to flee.

One day later, the residents of Clair, a small community of 50 people about one kilometre from the crash, and surrounding farms were allowed to return home.

CN says 26 cars jumped the track, including six containing hazardous materials, and the spectacular fireball erupted from two cars carrying petroleum products.

The publisher of the Wadena News said she’d never seen anything like it in her 13 years in the area. “I’ve seen derailments, but this is a pretty bad one,” Alison Squires told The Canadian Press. “You could see… this huge plume of black smoke.”

What Canadians may not realize is there are hundreds of train collisions, accidents and derailments every year on the nation’s railways. Like the latest incident, most don’t result in injury or death, but they can be alarming.

Last month, the mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., called on Ottawa to do more to ensure his town’s safety after the sixth derailment in about four months. Two trains go through the town each day, pulling 56,000 cars loaded with dangerous goods annually. Sadly, our history is rife with horrific train accidents, including this five-pack of disasters:

5) The date: Nov. 10, 1979
The disaster: The Mississauga Evacuation

The details: A derailment doesn’t have to be deadly to be devastating. Just before midnight on Remembrance Day 1979, a 106-car freight train packed with explosive and poisonous chemicals pulled out of the local marshalling yards when, thanks to an overheated bearing, a set of wheels fell off, sparking a derailment near the intersection of Dundas Street and Mavis Road. According to Heritage Mississauga’s website, one of the tanker cars was filled with 90 tonnes of chlorine, while 39 more cars carried butane, propane, toluene, styrene and other highly flammable materials. A witness later recalled seeing a red-hot set of wheels from the train cartwheel 50 feet through the air and crash in her backyard. Several cars filled with propane exploded, sending up a fireball that could be seen 100 kilometres away. Every available bit of firefighting equipment was sent to the blaze. With the possibility of a deadly cloud of chlorine gas spreading throughout suburban Mississauga, more than 250,000 residents were forced to flee in what was North America’s largest peacetime evacuation until hurricane Katrina walloped Louisiana in 2005. Recalled Mayor Hazel McCallion: “If this had happened a half-mile farther down the track — either east or west — we would have seen thousands of people wiped out. It’s a miracle it happened here.” Six days later, residents were allowed to return. Amazingly, no one was reported killed.

4) The date: March 12, 1857
The disaster: The Desjardins Canal Derailment

The details: Ten years before we formally became a country, a Great Western Railway passenger train met a grisly end when a broken axle caused it to jump the tracks and crash through the deck of a timber suspension bridge over the frozen canal outside Hamilton. Here’s a gripping historical account from the archives of the Hamilton Public Library: “The chasm, 60 feet deep, over which this bridge was erected, was made by cutting an outlet for the canal through Burlington Heights. At the time of the accident, the water was covered with ice about two feet thick… The engine and tender crushed at once through the ice. The baggage car, striking the corner of the tender in the act of falling, was thrown to one side and fell some 10 yards from the engine … As far as we can yet learn, everyone in the first car was killed; those who were not crushed being drowned by the water, which nearly filled the car.” A Hamilton railway worker later recalled seeing “the steam suddenly stop, and a sort of dust arise. In a second, there was no train to be seen.” Rescuers raced to the scene, but struggled to reach the wounded because snow coated the embankments leading down to the canal. The tragedy killed 59 of the 100 passengers on board and injured at least 18.

3) The date: Sept. 1, 1947
The disaster: The Dugald Rail Crash

The details: For Manitobans, Labour Day weekend in 1947 will forever be remembered as the date of the worst rail disaster in Western Canada’s history. According to a 2006 report by Free Press writer Bill Redekop, it was around 9:45 p.m. when the engineer of the Minaki Special, travelling at about 75 miles per hour, missed a signal to pull over and slammed into a transcontinental from Winnipeg, which was parked in Dugald waiting for the oncoming train to pull over onto a siding. As Redekop reported, the crash killed 31 people and injured 85, with two victims being decapitated and many others dying in an inferno that quickly spread to a nearby elevator full of wheat. The glow from the blaze could be seen from downtown Winnipeg, 24 kilometres away. The deaths and injuries were in the Minaki train, composed mainly of old wooden, gaslit passenger cars that burst into flames after toppling from the tracks. The special was carrying cottagers, who had just closed their cabins for the summer, and children returning from camps. With few ambulances available, heroic Dugald residents used signs, billboards and doors as stretchers, and a local farmer used his tractor to pull two cars away from the train so they wouldn’t catch fire. At the time, a Free Press night reporter, driving around monitoring his scanner, beat police to the horrific scene. In 2007, a marker was unveiled to commemorate the disaster.

2) The date: July 6, 2013
The disaster: The Lac-Mégantic nightmare

The details: Given its massive media exposure, this is likely Canada’s most famous rail disaster and the one with the most widespread impact, spurring tighter regulations for the transport of dangerous goods. In the early-morning hours, a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying 7.7 million litres of a particularly combustible crude oil hurtled into the Quebec town, where it derailed and exploded, causing fires that killed 47 people and destroyed the town’s downtown core. The fires burned for days. The victims were mostly identified by DNA samples and dental records. The horror began when, just before midnight, the train was parked on a downward slope with one motor running to power the air brakes. When an engine fire erupted, forcing fire crews to shut down the engines, the air-brake system eventually failed. An insufficient number of hand brakes had been set by the engineer, and the train hit Lac-Mégantic travelling at 105 km/h. One Wednesday, a Quebec coroner released 47 reports — one for each person who died — with each stating: “This is a violent death. This death was preventable, or avoidable.” Three employees of the railway face 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death. The company also faces charges.

1) The date: June 29, 1864
The disaster: The St-Hilaire Horror

The details: It happened a few years before Confederation but remains Canada’s deadliest rail accident. A Grand Trunk train carrying between 354 and 475 passengers — many newly arrived German and Polish immigrants seeking a new life — was travelling from Quebec City to Montreal when, around 1:20 a.m., it approached a swing bridge over the Rivière Richelieu near modern-day Mont-St-Hilaire. The bridge had been opened to allow five barges and a steamer ship to pass, and a red light a mile ahead signalled for the train to slow down because the crossing was open. Tragically, for whatever reason, the conductor and the engineer failed to see the light. As a result, the engine and 11 coaches, with most of the passengers likely asleep, fell through the gap, one atop the other, crushing a passing barge and sinking into the river. An astonishing 99 people were believed killed and 100 injured in our worst rail disaster, including the conductor, though recently hired engineer William Burnie managed to escape with minor injuries. Online reports state he later claimed he was unfamiliar with the route and had not seen the signal.

As Canadians, we know our nation was forged with the might of giant locomotives, but we too often forget how quickly, and tragically, life can go off the rails.

Rocklin Deputy Fire Chief reports on oil train hazards

Repost from the Roseville & Granite Press Tribune

Oil train wrecks across nation put Rocklin on alert

South Placer train yards at center of Valero’s proposal
By Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor, October 8, 2014
The train tracks that run between Rocklin and Roseville will be filled with nonstop oil trains if Vallero Refinery’s plan is approved. | Ike Dodson – The Placer Herald

The U.S. and Canada have together experienced seven sizable accidents in the last two years involving oil shipped across rail lines — and Rocklin leaders have no intention of seeing their city become the eighth location on the list as Valero moves forward with plans to push thousands of tanker-cars filled with “black gold” through the region.

Not without a plan, at least.

Two months ago, the Valero Refinery plant in Benicia, some 81 miles from Rocklin, submitted an Environmental Impact Report to California regulators for its Crude by Rail Project. Valero’s plan would bring individual train cars full of crude oil from Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan converging on the Union Pacific rail yard in Roseville, where they would be assembled into 50-car trains and then sent on to Benicia. According to the EIR, Valero hopes to send two of these 50-car convoys plugging through the older sections of South Placer County every day.

Since the release of Valero’s EIR, Rocklin Deputy Fire Chief Richard Holmes has been examining potential dangers for the city. In a recent staff report submitted to council members, Holmes noted that, between 2013 and 2014, seven American and Canadian cities have been forced to respond to serious accident involving crude oil, ethanol or similar petrochemicals being shipped across rails.

“The hazard identification of crude oil is ‘immediately hazardous’ with a highly flammable distinction,” Holmes wrote. “There have been many major accidents involving crude oil in North America … these events demonstrate that accidents can happen.”

Holmes added that Rocklin’s risks are likely softened by the fact its train tracks run only a few miles from Roseville’s Union Pacific yard, thus forcing any oil tankers heading northwest to depart on their way from one city to the other at “relatively slow” rates of speed.

However, even that rare bright spot in Holmes’ report may be of limited consolation to Rocklin city council members. In February, an oil train that crashed in Lynchburg, Virginia, was traveling at only 24 miles per hour, according to its ownership company, CSX. In that case, seven oil cars spilled into the environment — with three plunging directly into the James River.

The Lynchburg oil train wreck is in addition to the seven larger recent disasters Holmes mentioned in his analysis.

Rocklin Fire Department’s immediate conclusions in the face of Valero’s plans involve identifying the community’s specific risks if an oil train accident occurs, and then gearing training and preparedness for those exact scenarios. One asset the fire department currently already has is a foam tender with over 1,000 gallons of Class B foam. If the Valero EIR passes, obtaining more backup resources may be a topic the city council considers.

Rocklin City Public Information Officer Karen Garner said the recent staff report to leadership is, for the moment, an overview.

“The presentation was just about presenting the facts and current status of a topic that’s received a lot of attention lately,” Garner said this week. “No request for additional equipment or resources is being made at this time.”