Tag Archives: James River Association

Lynchburg VA Task Force issues 32 draft recommendations on railroad safety

Repost from WSLS 10, Roanoke VA

McAuliffe’s Railroad & Security Task Force presents draft of rail safety proposal

By Margaret Grigsby, Apr 09, 2015 5:18 PM
Flames and black smoke were seen at a train derailment in downtown Lynchburg in 2014.
Flames and black smoke were seen at a train derailment in downtown Lynchburg in 2014.

RICHMOND (WSLS 10) – Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Railroad Safety and Security Task Force presented its recommendations on railroad safety and how to protect lives, property and the environment at a meeting in Richmond Thursday. The task force was created after the Lynchburg train derailment in 2014. Its report is a result of eight months of research and input multiple sources.

In a draft of the group’s report are key findings of its investigation into the current state of rail safety in Virginia as well as recommendations on how to make the tracks safer for people and the environment. The report says Virginia railroads are generally safe, efficient and reliable, however recent derailments involving Bakken crude oil and other flammable liquids is cause for concern.

Included in the recommendations section of the draft were 32 items in the areas of planning, organization, training, information sharing, response, funding and regulatory/legislative. The recommendations covered everything from prioritization of areas where a derailment would have high impact to the purchase and implementation of training equipment and procedures.

Read the full report draft here.

In a statement released by the James River Association on the task force’s report draft, Policy Specialist for the JRA Adrienne Kotula said the recommendations were a “key step forward in addressing the risks posed by transporting crude oil by rail through Virginia.”

Kotula noted what the report lacks is focus on recommendations to prevent accidents through inspections of railways.

The report noted federal studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation conclude rail transport of crude oil and ethanol could result major financial and environmental damages. The report quotes the USDOT’s 2014 research, saying:

The analysis shows that expected damages based on the historical safety record could be $4.5 billion and damages from higher-consequence events could reach $14 billion over a 20-year period in the absence of the rule.

The final recommendations from the task force are set to be issued on April 30, the anniversary of the Lynchburg Bakken crude oil train derailment. The draft is available for public comment through April 19.

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.

CSX reimburses Lynchburg $107,853; Virginia regulators negotiating further penalties

Repost from The Richmond Times-Dispatch

State regulators expect penalty for CSX oil train wreck

April CSX wreck sent oil into river at Lynchburg
By Alicia Petska, The News & Advance, August 21, 2014 10:30 pm

— State environmental regulators are in talks with CSX to negotiate the terms of a consent order that will be issued in response to the estimated 29,916 gallons of oil released into the James River during the April 30 train derailment in downtown Lynchburg.

The order is expected to include a financial penalty, but the amount has not been determined yet, said Robert Weld, regional director for the Department of Environmental Quality.

Other measures may include long-term monitoring of river conditions and replanting vegetative buffers along the riverbank.

Water quality testing in the weeks after the derailment found no contaminants of concern, Weld said, but visual checks and other monitoring will continue out of an “abundance of caution.”

It remains unclear just how much of the Bakken crude oil that leaked during the downtown derailment actually mixed into the river or made its way downstream.

Much of it burned in the large fire that erupted after 17 cars on a 105-car oil train derailed near downtown Lynchburg. Three cars tumbled over the riverbank, and one ruptured. There were no injuries or building damage.

The incident drew Lynchburg into a national debate over how to safely ship the volatile crude found in Bakken shale around North Dakota, where production has skyrocketed in recent years.

On Wednesday, Weld was among more than a dozen state officials who convened in Lynchburg for the second meeting of a new rail safety task force formed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe after the derailment.

The meeting, held at City Hall, included a presentation from the federal agency charged with regulating hazmat shipments and public comments from environmental advocates and rail employee representatives.

CSX had offered to reimburse the city for the cost of its emergency response and sent the final check last week, according to Lynchburg’s finance department.

The reimbursement totaled $107,853 for personnel and equipment costs, as well as minor property damage to trees, curbs and sidewalks.

The new rail safety task force has been asked to advise the state on how it can improve its own preparedness and response efforts.

It also might weigh in on the federal regulations that govern most aspects of rail operations. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been studying the oil-by-rail issue since a deadly oil train derailment in Quebec in July 2013.

Last month, federal officials released a set of proposed rules that may lead to phasing out older DOT-111 model tankers that have been criticized as puncture prone.

There also may be higher standards for braking systems, speed limits and testing of volatile liquids. The proposed rules are in a 60-day public comment period that will end Sept. 30.

During a public hearing Wednesday, water quality advocates with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and James River Association urged officials to take a comprehensive look at the rail safety issue and not limit themselves to one region, cargo or issue.

The proposed federal regulations may not do anything to deter the kind of derailment that occurred in Lynchburg, said Pat Calvert of the James River Association, whose office is close to the derailment site.

Given the location of the derailment — near several downtown businesses and a popular trail system — it’s a miracle no one was injured, he said.

“We dodged a bullet,” Calvert said. “But we shouldn’t necessarily be playing Russian roulette here.”

The cause of the Lynchburg derailment is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB said it could be a year or more before its report is ready.

The state’s rail safety task force plans to hold its next meeting in September in the Norfolk area. It hopes to tour the Yorktown oil refinery — where oil-by-rail shipments through Virginia end up — and meet with a representative of the NTSB.