Tag Archives: Mississippi River

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.”