Tag Archives: Maine & Atlantic Railway

Rail company ends shipping of crude oil in Maine & New Hampshire

Repost from The Portland Press Herald
[Editor:  Interesting summary of various effects on rail companies following the Lac-Mégantic disaster.  – RS]

Irving ends rail shipping of crude oil through Maine

The cutback is due to a drop in global demand and is not related to the Lac-Megantic rail disaster, the firm says.
By Tom Bell, July 15, 2015

Irving Oil has stopped shipping crude oil on railroads through Maine and has no plans to revive the practice.

The Canadian company, which operates an oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, confirmed the policy change in a June 30 email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

The change means there will be no more oil shipments though New Hampshire and southern and central Maine on Pan Am Railways. In addition, there will be no more oil shipments on the Eastern Maine Railway, which connects with Pan Am at Mattawamkeag and continues through Washington County to the Canadian border.

The cutback is because of global oil-supply-and-demand issues and is not related to the fallout from the Lac-Megantic rail disaster, Mark Sherman, Irving’s chief operating officer, told the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. The U.S. demand for Canadian-produced petroleum products has declined in the wake of an oversupply of oil from domestic and Mideast sources.

In 2012, Maine railroads shipped 5.2 million barrels of crude oil, but shipments declined sharply after the July 6, 2013 accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when an unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled and derailed, resulting in a fire and explosion that killed 47 people.

The railroad involved in the disaster, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, never carried oil again and went bankrupt. Its successor, the Central Maine & Quebec Railway, also has never carried oil because of political opposition in Lac-Megantic.

Pan Am, whose trains travel through Portland, carried just 15,545 barrels of oil in all of 2014, according to records the company filed with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In 2015, Pan Am has carried 37,128 barrels. All those shipments occurred in February, the last month the railroad delivered oil to the Irving refinery, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

An official with Pan Am could not immediately be reached for comment.

John Giles, CEO of Central Maine & Quebec Railway, had been seeking an agreement with Lac-Megantic officials to restart oil train shipments through the Canadian town. On Tuesday, Giles said the railroad does not need to carry oil to be profitable.

“I was never counting on moving crude oil in the first place,” Giles said.

Giles said his railroad spent $10 million to upgrade the rail line last year and is spending $6 million this year, with about half of that investment in Maine.

An investigation after the Lac-Megantic accident found that the tank-car labels understated the flammability of the oil. Twenty-five companies have offered a total of $431 million (Canadian) to settle lawsuits arising out of the disaster. Irving Oil’s contribution is $75 million. The settlement is being considered by U.S. and Canadian courts.

Previously secret details: Bakken crude oil rolling over Ohio rails

Repost from The Columbus Dispatch

Bakken crude oil rolls over Ohio rails

By Laura Arenschield & Rick Rouan, January 29, 2015
Ohio’s railroad tracks handle at least 45 million gallons of Bakken crude oil in a week. This view of tracks is from Groveport Road on the South Side. | Tom Dodge | Dispatch

Millions of gallons of some of the most volatile crude oil in North America are being transported on rail lines through Ohio each week, according to reports that the state had kept secret until this week.

The railroad-company reports show that 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken crude oil come through Ohio each week from North Dakota oil fields on the way to East Coast refineries.

Two million to 25 million gallons a week come through Franklin County alone.

Bakken crude oil is desirable to oil and gas companies because it requires less refining than other shale oil to be turned into diesel fuel and gasoline. It also is highly flammable.

Prompted by a 2013 train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec and an explosion in Lynchburg, Va., last April, federal regulators began requiring railroads in May to report the average weekly number of trains carrying at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude.

Those reports are sent to state emergency-management agencies. The U.S. Department of Transportation has said the files don’t contain sensitive security details, prompting some states, including Virginia and Washington, to make the reports public.

Despite requests from environmental groups, citizens and news outlets, including one from The Dispatch in July, Ohio would not release the reports, citing an exemption in the public-records law meant to prevent acts of terrorism.

Then this week, the state released the records to Lea Harper, managing director of the FreshWater Accountability Project, an environmental advocacy group.

The state released the reports to The Dispatch yesterday.

“So many other states are doing it, and our legal staff started looking into it and made a determination that it probably was not as volatile of information as it first seemed to be,” said Joseph Andrews, a spokesman for the State Emergency Response Commission in Ohio.

One of Harper’s relatives lives in a nursing home in Seneca County, near railroad tracks where Bakken crude-oil shipments pass each week. She said she worries about his safety.

“Anything that has happened in the past can certainly happen again,” she said, referencing the explosions in Virginia and Quebec.

No Bakken shipments have exploded or caught fire in Ohio, Andrews said.

Transport of crude oil via rail has surged in recent years amid the boom in the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota.

The amount of crude petroleum hauled on U.S. railroads increased from more than 20 million tons in 2012 to nearly 40 million tons in 2013, the most recent data available through the Association of American Railroads. In 2011, about 5 million tons of crude was hauled by rail.

That number includes all oil, not just Bakken crude oil.

With nearly 5,300 miles of track, Ohio has one of the densest concentrations of rail in the nation and is a crossroads between the Bakken shale formation and East Coast refineries.

Most of the Bakken crude traveling through Ohio is being transported on CSX rail lines. The CSX report shows that 30 million to 105 million gallons of Bakken crude are hauled through Ohio each week. Norfolk Southern moves 13 million to 28 million gallons of Bakken crude.

Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon said the company opposes public release of its routes for Bakken crude for security reasons.

“We have to balance that openness with operating a secure network,” Pidgeon said.

In an email, CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said crude-oil shipments represent less than 2 percent of the freight the railroad transports.

She said the company often goes beyond federal standards for track inspection and stays well within speed limits.

In February 2013, railroads opted for voluntary measures to ensure safe shipment of crude oil, including reduced speed limits and more inspections.

Canadian Pacific Railway runs an average of three trains per week on a short stretch of Norfolk Southern rail that cuts through northwestern Ohio. Those trains cross from Indiana into Williams County and travel northeast through Fulton County before crossing into Michigan.

The train that exploded in Quebec started as a Canadian Pacific train. The company transferred the train to Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway in Canada before the derailment.

Canadian Pacific has made several changes since, including tighter security requirements, more frequent inspections of tracks and equipment and more worker training, said Andy Cummings, a company spokesman.

“We took a very close look at our practices,” he said.

The reports sent to state emergency-management agencies do not say when Bakken crude oil is coming through Ohio. Railroad companies are not required to report schedules for those shipments.

In Cuyahoga County, 29 million to 45 million gallons of Bakken crude travel along rail lines each week.

“It’s a concern,” said Walter Topps, Cuyahoga County’s emergency-management agency administrator. “It’s not a concern in the sense that we’re not ready. But there’s an awareness in the first-responder community, among fire departments … we’re all aware of this.”

$200 million settlement money announced for victims of Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

Repost from The Globe and Mail, Toronto
[Editor: Significant quote: “‘The main three bad actors, World Fuels, Canadian Pacific Railway and Irving Oil, aren’t contributing a penny to this settlement. We’re going to keep going after them very hard in American court,’ said Mr. Flowers.”  – RS]

Settlement money announced for victims of Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

Justin Giovannetti, Jan. 09 2015
Smoke rises from tanker cars in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Smoke rises from tanker cars in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The families of those who died in the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster will have access to a $200-million (U.S.) fund, according to details released Friday from the bankruptcy case of the railroad responsible for the 2013 tragedy in eastern Quebec.

The fund still needs to be approved by Canadian and American courts before the first cheques are mailed to the families of the 47 people killed in the crash. A firefighter who died by suicide three months after the disaster was added to the list of victims. Money could flow as soon as this spring.

“The families of the victims need to live with this disaster every day. Those in town have gone into debt to try to get back on our feet and rebuild. If this could let us start over our lives on the right foot, that would be great, but we haven’t seen any money yet,” Yannick Gagné, the owner of the Musi-Café bar where the majority of the victims died, told The Globe on Friday.

Mr. Gagné has rebuilt the Musi-Café, but he’s still awaiting the help he says he was promised in the weeks after the disaster.

Just after 1 a.m. on July 6, 2013, a train carrying 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick careened while unmanned into the centre of town and derailed. A series of powerful explosions then levelled much of the city’s once picturesque downtown.

The settlement money announced Friday was drawn not only from the liquidation of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the firm at the centre of the derailment, but also from a number of companies that extracted the oil, built the rail cars and leased them to shippers.

According to Peter Flowers, a Chicago-based lawyer involved in a wrongful death lawsuit, talks are continuing about how much of the $200-million will go to the families of victims.

“The money goes to the wrongful death victims – a class-action filed in Canada – those who suffered economic and emotional damages, and to the provincial and federal governments’ environmental claims,” Mr. Flowers said.

Crews are still demolishing buildings in downtown Lac-Mégantic and locals remain jittery about how much compensation they’ll receive. Property owners downtown have received $37-million from the government. But victims of the disaster have so far received nothing from the companies.

While bankruptcy trustee Robert Keach said he is seeking $500-million for the victims’ fund before Monday’s filing deadline, Mr. Flowers said the decision not to pay by three of the largest corporations linked to the disaster was responsible for the shortfall.

“The main three bad actors, World Fuels, Canadian Pacific Railway and Irving Oil, aren’t contributing a penny to this settlement. We’re going to keep going after them very hard in American court,” said Mr. Flowers.

The three companies have so far denied any responsibility for the 2013 disaster.

Canada: Dangerous crude could still travel in misclassified tank cars

Repost from The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada

Dangerous crude could still travel in misclassified tank cars, TSB says

Kim Mackrael and Grant Robertson, Sep. 04 2014
People from several juristictions including the Ministry of the Environment for Canada and Quebec, and the RCMP prepare to do some investigative work in the area of the nine remaining tank cars sitting on the tracks in Nantes, PQ on July 11, 2013. This is where the ill-fated train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic originated from early Saturday morning. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
People from several jurisdictions including the Ministry of the Environment for Canada and Quebec, and the RCMP prepare to do some investigative work in the area of the nine remaining tank cars sitting on the tracks in Nantes, PQ on July 11, 2013. This is where the ill-fated train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic originated from early Saturday morning. | (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Canada’s transportation safety agency is raising concerns that dangerous crude oil could still be travelling by rail inside misclassified tank cars, despite assurances from the federal government that the problem has been fixed.

In a recent letter to Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board said new requirements to test oil don’t explicitly address its “variability,” including the fact that different products are sometimes blended together before they are shipped.

The letter was sent just days before the TSB issued its final report on the Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy, in which a train loaded with volatile crude oil exploded last summer, killing 47 people and levelling much of the Quebec town. The agency’s report, made public last month, found that more than a dozen different factors contributed to the crash, including a failure to apply enough hand brakes, a weak safety culture at the railway and lax regulation by the federal government.

TSB tests conducted early in the investigation showed that the oil on the train was more volatile than its shipping documents had indicated and it recommended that new measures be taken to ensure shipments are classified accurately. The federal government responded by toughening the rules for testing crude oil samples, including new provisions requiring a shipper to make information about the sampling method they use available to the government upon request.

However, those new regulations “do not explicitly address the variability in the properties of mined gases and liquids, such as petroleum crude oil,” the letter from the TSB says. While the properties of manufactured dangerous goods, such as gasoline, are better understood and relatively predictable, the agency warned that crude oil and natural gas can vary from one well to another and in the same well over time.

Oil that comes from different sources may also be blended when it’s loaded onto rail cars, the TSB notes. That means crude that was deemed relatively safe during one set of tests – for example, at the time crude is extracted from a well – could be mixed with more dangerous oil when it is loaded onto tank cars, and the overall risk may not be reflected by the original test results. The TSB letter also raises questions about the department’s ability to enforce its own classification rules.

Oil is widely known to be flammable, but regulators in Canada did not previously believe it had the potential to explode and cause the kind of destruction it did in Lac-Mégantic. The train that derailed there was carrying light crude from the Bakken formation, which straddles North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Bakken crude and other light shale oils are now widely believed to be more volatile than conventional oil.

A spokesperson for Transport Canada said there are “strict requirements” under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act that compel companies to classify dangerous goods properly. “Testing criteria are harmonized with [United Nations] requirements and are the same as for the U.S.,” the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. She added that the department is working with the crude oil industry, U.S. regulators and Natural Resources Canada to develop standardized tools and processes for crude oil testing.

The American Petroleum Institute recently developed a new set of classification and rail loading standards for its members to approve, which are expected to be made public later this month. Both Transport Canada and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were involved in the process, according to the API, but the new standards would not be enforceable unless regulators chose to adopt them.

In the meantime, some companies are choosing to adopt new testing methods – in addition to those required by federal regulations – to ensure they are accurately measuring the possible dangers of the crude they’re extracting or transporting. Producers in North Dakota are also increasingly looking to stabilize the crude before they ship it, in a process that removes the most volatile components from the main product, reducing the potential dangers of shipping it by rail.

A separate safety advisory from the TSB, which was also issued days before the agency’s final report on Lac-Mégantic, warned that some of the problems identified at Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway may also exist at other short-line railways. The safety agency said runaway trains occur at a greater rate at short-line railways than larger railways and suggested short-line employees may not always receive the training they need to operate safely.