Tag Archives: oil train

Protesters shut down rail lines in Canada – why that’s important here in Benicia

By Roger Straw, February 18, 2020

My U.S. readers might wonder why I cover oil train news from Canada.  Answer: Our Canada neighbors are important – we are of course, a global people.  AND… what happens in production and transport of Canadian tar-sands oil is newsworthy “uprail” news for our west coast states.  Canadian and US ports are lined up for export, and our refineries would love to receive the icky substance by rail.

Vintage yard sign – successful 2016 defeat of Valero’s oil train proposal

My Benicia readers might wonder why I continue to cover oil train news at all – didn’t we successfully defeat Valero’s dirty and dangerous proposal in 2016? Answer: well, Valero is poised to buy our 2020 mayor and council elections.  Who’s to say they won’t try for crude by rail again?  Back in 2014-2016, Valero expected to win approval, and invested heavily in the necessary infrastructure for offloading oil trains.  Last I knew, they stored the heavy equipment offsite here in Benicia’s Industrial Park.  Has it been sold or moved?


Rail Lines Shut Down, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Still on Gidimt’en Land as Miller Meets Tyendinaga Blockaders

The Energy Mix, February 18, 2020, Primary Author Mitchell Beer
Tyendinaga blockade
Tyendinaga blockade | Source: Twitter

Rail lines across most of Canada remained shut down this week, RCMP were still a threatening presence on Gidimt’en land in British Columbia, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with Tyendinaga Mohawk protesters, and a flurry of news coverage traced the widening impacts of a blockade triggered by a pipeline company pushing an unwanted natural gas pipeline through unceded Indigenous territory.

Over the weekend, the Tyendinaga blockade of the CN Rail track near Belleville, Ontario continued after the community concluded a day-long meeting with Miller. Blockades or demonstrations were under way near Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, and on the Prince Edward Island side of the Confederation Bridge, and shut down the Thousand Islands Bridge between Ontario and New York State for 2½ hours. Days earlier, a court injunction barred Wet’suwet’en supporters from continuing their blockade of the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

And in Toronto, a massive march snaked through downtown to the provincial legislature Monday, with Toronto police tweeting that drivers should consider alternate routes after protesters stopped for a time at the busy corner of Bay and College. “When justice fails, block the rails,” demonstrators chanted. “How do you spell racist? R-C-M-P,” they added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government was committed to “resolving the situation  quickly and peacefully,” while maintaining that the rail disruptions must be settled through dialogue, not police intervention.

“We are not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” he told media Friday, while attending a global security conference in Munich. “We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are a country of the rule of law. And we will ensure that everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes.”

Before his meeting at Tyendinaga began Saturday, Miller said he wasn’t sure he could convince anyone to shut down the blockade, but he was there to open a dialogue.

“This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion,” he said. “All of Canada is hurting, the economy is slowing down,” and “everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can’t move forward without dialogue, and that’s we’re going to do today.”

Afterwards, based on a recording provided by a meeting participant, CBC reported that Miller had asked the community to suspend the blockade. But that request was undercut by a call from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Woos (Frank Alec), who told the room the RCMP was still on his community’s territory. “I would suggest to you loud and clear that we want the RCMP out of Gidimt’en territory,” he said.

While the RCMP operation to clear several Indigenous checkpoints was over, the chief said the police were still on the scene and “continued to pose a threat”, CBC said.

“We want them out of there. We don’t want them there. They have a detachment right in the middle of nowhere, in their eyes. But in our eyes, it’s our territory,” he said. “We do our traditions out there. We do our trapping and hunting. They are out there with guns, threatening us.”

“Get the red coats out first, get the blue coats out…then we can maybe have some common discussions,” responded Tyendinaga community member Mario Baptiste.

“Obviously dealing with the context of the issue…it absolutely needs to be widened,” Miller replied.

“Tonight, we made some modest progress by opening up a dialogue with the people standing out there in the cold and doing so for eight or nine days,” Miller told media afterwards. “We talked openly, frankly, painfully at times, and sometimes with humour. There’s a lot more work to be done.”

Miller added that he would share the results of the discussion with Trudeau and the rest of the federal cabinet. “The underlying issues did not arise yesterday,” he said. “They’ve been present in this community for hundreds of years.”

Political scientists Gina Starblanket of the University of Calgary and Joyce Green of the University of Regina underscored that history last Thursday, in a Globe and Mail op ed that declared the death of the reconciliation process between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

“February has seen an explosion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous support for the current political struggle by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters,” they wrote. “Again, we are seeing a ham-handed response of both orders of government, delivered in justificatory talking points to the media and enforced by the RCMP. Once again, we have the police dragging Indigenous peoples off of their lands, in Canada, in the service of the settler state, which is as usual attending to virtually every relevant political interest—except Indigenous ones.”

All of that “despite the rhetoric from federal and some provincial politicians about the need to transform their relationship with Indigenous people—even though that little matter of land theft continues,” they add. “And Canada—in all its structural manifestations—continues its perpetual drive to eliminate Indigenous rights to land and self-determination, treating them as impediments to the national interest.”

News coverage over the last week combined front-line reports on the blockade with stories on the businesses and supply chains disrupted by the national rail shutdown. On Thursday, CBC reported that protests in Belleville and New Hazelton, B.C. had “prompted CN Rail to temporarily shut down parts of its network” as of Tuesday, with the lack of any train movement “crippling the ability to move goods and facilitate trade.” That same day, CN said it was “initiating a progressive and orderly shutdown of its Eastern Canadian network”, a decision that could lead to 6,000 temporary layoffs, according to Teamsters Canada.

“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protesters,” said CN President and CEO J.J. Ruest. “This situation is regrettable…these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities and beyond our control.”

On Wednesday, VIA Rail said it had cancelled 256 passenger trains along its Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes, affecting 42,100 passengers. A day later, it shut down most operations. “Via Rail has no other option but to cancel all of its services on the network, with the exception of Sudbury-White River (CP Rail) and Churchill-The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway), until further notice,” the company said in a media statement.

The lack of rail access quickly cascaded across the economy, with business leaders raising alarms about the economic impact.

“Every day that it goes on, the damage compounds,” said Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It is damaging our international reputation as a reliable supplier. It is affecting our supply chains around the world.”

Beatty told CBC the blockades had “severely limited the movement of perishable foods and other consumer items, grain, construction materials, and propane for Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” the national broadcaster said. “The stoppage has also affected the movement of natural resources like timber, aluminum, coal, and oil, while factories and mines may soon face difficult decisions about their ability to continue operations.”

“Every day we hear more and more from companies that either can’t get their parts or ingredients or components to market, or can’t get their products out. It’s beginning to pile up,” added Dennis Darby, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, whose members typically load about 4,500 rail cars a day. “In today’s modern industrial economy, there aren’t as many big warehouses of stuff as people tend to think. It’s kind of in, out, and sell.”

Derek Nighbor, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said the disruptions had cost his members “millions and millions of dollars” in lost sales, with mills unable to get raw materials or schedule freight cars to ship finished products. Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, traced a similar impact.

“If the blockade were to lift today, it would have cost the grain industry over $10 million just over the last few days,” he said. “We have farmers who are needing to deliver product. They’re needing to sell it into the handling system so that they can get paid, so that they can pay bills and keep cash flow going on their farms.”

Karl Littler, senior vice president, public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, listed personal hygiene products, infant formula, cleaning and sanitary products, and fresh food as items that will be in short supply if the blockades continue. “There is an inability to move goods cross country through the various choke points,” he told CBC. “It’s of major concern to retail merchants. It both interrupts the flow of retail-ready goods and hampers the manufacturing process for Canadian manufacturing.”

“Obviously, there are some issues if nothing is being transported by rail,” said Nathalie St-Pierre, president and CEO of the Canadian Propane Association. “They are talking about continuing the dialogue. But at the same time, and from probably everyone’s perspective, you have to lift the blockades. You can have the dialogue, but at this time, I think the point was made.”

But for campaigners supporting the Wet’suwet’en, there is historic irony but no coincidence in a nation-wide protest that targets Canada’s railways.

“It’s very historically significant because the project of colonization, as well as the extinction of the buffalo, was facilitated by the laying down of the Trans Canada railway,” said Nikki Sanchez, a member of the Pipil Maya Nation who was involved with a six-day encampment at the B.C. legislature.

Climate Justice Edmonton organizer Emma Jackson tweeted that this might be the only time she celebrates cancelled trains, noting that the railway was first built to “enable settlers to go and build their lives on Indigenous lands”, making it a fair target for pushback against a pipeline being built without the consent of hereditary chiefs.

“It’s also probably the best tool that a lot of folks have at our disposal, in order to really put pressure on the decision-makers,” Jackson told the Toronto Star, adding that it’s “mind-boggling” that politicians are focusing on the inconvenience resulting from the blockades. “If you’re going to talk about inconvenience, it is very inconvenient that you’re going to be removed from your own land, forcefully at the barrel of a gun.”

Sanchez added that Indigenous communities don’t take the blockades lightly, and they wouldn’t be possible without the support of non-Indigenous Canadian allies. “We have no interest in impacting individuals’ livelihoods,” she said. “We want a Canada that is upheld to justice.”

The Star documents the support for the Wet’suwet’en from many of the passengers affected by the rail shutdown in Ontario.

Lac Mégantic “bomb train” employees arrested: criminal negligence

Repost from the Boston Herald

Men charged in Quebec railway disaster in court

May 14, 2014  |  Associated Press
Photo by: The Associated Press  FILE – Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, Saturday, July 6, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson, File)

MONTREAL — Three railway employees arrested in the runaway oil train explosion that killed 47 people were arraigned and released on bail Tuesday. They face criminal negligence charges in the small Quebec town that was devastated by the horrific inferno, which led to calls for making oil trains safer across North America.

The men were arrested late Monday afternoon, about 10 months after more than 60 tankers carrying oil from North Dakota came loose in the middle of the night, sped downhill for nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) and derailed in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic in eastern Quebec, near the border with Maine. At least five of the tankers exploded, leveling about 30 buildings, including a popular bar that was filled with revelers enjoying a summer Friday night.

Quebec provincial prosecutor’s office laid 47 counts of criminal negligence, one for each person who died, against engineer Thomas Harding, manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, and Richard Labrie, the railway’s traffic controller. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., the defunct railway at the heart of the disaster, faces the same charges. Criminal negligence that causes death can result in a sentence of up to life imprisonment in Canada.

The three men entered the packed courthouse before a crowd of journalists and onlookers, including some residents who had lost family and friends.

No pleas were entered but Thomas Walsh, Harding’s lawyer, said his client will plead not guilty. The defendants were due to return to court in September.

Walsh said he had written to prosecutors several times asking that Harding to be allowed to turn himself if he was charged. Instead, Walsh said Harding was arrested by a SWAT team that swooped through his home and into his backyard, where he was working on his boat with a son and a friend. Police forced all three to drop to the ground.

“It was a complete piece of theatre that was totally unnecessary,” Walsh told The Associated Press.

Edward Burkhardt, who was chairman of MM&A, declined to comment.

The railroad blamed the engineer for failing to set enough brakes, allowing the train to begin rolling toward the town of 6,000.

Harding had left the train unattended overnight to sleep at an inn shortly before it barreled into Lac-Megantic.

The crash, the worst railway accident in Canada in nearly 150 years, prompted intense public pressure to make oil trains safer. Canada’s transport minister said in April that the type of tankers involved in the disaster must be retired or retrofitted within three years because they are prone to rupturing. The oil industry has rapidly moved to using trains to transport oil in part because of oil booms in North Dakota’s Bakken region and Alberta’s oil sands, and because of a lack of pipelines.

The arrests came just days before the bankrupt railroad’s sale closes.

The $15.85 million sale of MM&A is expected to close on Thursday in the U.S., but there could be a delay of a few days on a parallel proceeding in Canada. Most of the proceeds will be used to repay creditors. Eventually, there will be a settlement fund to compensate victims and repay cleanup costs.

The railroad’s buyer, a subsidiary of New York-based Fortress Investment Group, is changing the railroad’s name to Central Maine and Quebec Railway. The company said it hopes to recapture lost business but has no plans to try to bring back oil shipments.

Yannick Gagne, the owner of the Musi-Cafe, the establishment in the heart of town where many people were incinerated, has promised to make the new cafe a community gathering place as the town tries to move forward.

“You can understand, for me it’s a day full of emotion,” Gagne said.

Karine Blanchette, an employee who lost friends and colleagues, said she’s happy about the charges but nothing can erase the tragedy.

“Finally, there’s justice,” Blanchette said. “But it does not bring back the people we lost.”


Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto. David Sharp in Portland, Maine also contributed.

Community right-to-know laws: what is in those “bomb trains”?

Repost from International Business Times

After Oil Train Accidents, US Communities Want To Know What’s Inside Rail Freight

By Meagan Clark  |  May 02 2014
North Dakota train explosion A plume of smoke rises behind a train near Casselton, N.D., Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Reuters

When an oil train derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoon, City Manager Kimball Payne was as surprised as any of the town’s 77,000 residents; he had no idea that crude oil was being moved through town on a regular basis.

The accident, in which three tank cars tumbled into the James River, spilling 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of crude, was just the latest in a series of fiery oil train accidents around the country, which have sparked debate about the safety of freight rail and raised concerns among residents often unaware of the oil, gas and chemicals being transported through their communities.

As crude-by-rail has increased across the country in recent years, increasing 443 percent nationwide between 2005 and 2012, accidents have been on the rise. In the past year, eight explosive accidents, some fatal, have rocked communities from Alabama to North Dakota. Last year, an accident in Quebec caused 47 deaths and the evacuation of more than 2,000 people.

Those accidents are prompting federal regulators to propose, as soon as next week, standards for rail tank cars carrying oil, announced Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Community right-to-know laws dating from 1986 require facilities to disclose what hazardous chemicals are stored and used in a town, but the laws don’t extend to trains. By federal law, railroad and oil companies don’t have to disclose their exact freight contents or when and how much of their freight will pass through localities.

“Our community has a right to know what’s going on,” Bart Mihailovich, director of the Riverkeepers program at the nonprofit Center for Justice in Spokane, Washington, said. “What trains are traveling through Spokane and the inland northwest, what’s in them, and how dangerous are they? We have a right to know about emergency response plans and the risks we’re assuming by living, working and playing in this area.”

Payne, Lynchburg’s city manager, has lived in the area for 13 years and said he didn’t know trains were carrying oil through the bustling downtown district until the derailment this week.

“But I don’t know what’s on the tractor trucks going through the city every day either,” Payne said. “What would we do if we did know?”

“If anything’s going to be changed, it’s going to have to be changed at the federal level or maybe the state level. I know I have no authority over those railroads.”

The mayor of Casselton, North Dakota, where an oil train crash on Dec. 30 spilled 400,000 gallons of crude and forced the evacuation of residents, estimates that seven or eight trains a day, most carrying oil, pass through the rural town everyday. Edward McConnell remembers the city council had concerns over chlorine riding the rails several years ago. While training the fire department, the town spoke with the state and federal transportation departments about the contents and amounts of freight passing through.

“Their basic answer was when we have an accident, you’ll know what’s in the cars by the placard,” he said. Red diamond-shaped placards with the numbers 1267 designate crude, though not what type of crude, which could indicate how flammable or explosive it is.

“It would be nice to know [more details of the cars’ contents], but I don’t think it’s something that’s going to get much traction,” McConnell said. “Railroads have a lot of friends in Congress, and they’re not going to let too many bills through that [the railroads] don’t want. I’ve been dealing with railroads a lot of years — you can go up against them but at the end of the day they pretty much get what they want.”

Activist Matt Landon has decided the only way to know what’s passing through his neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington, is to track it himself. In April, he organized a group of seven volunteers to count how many oil trains are passing by Vancouver Bluff and, with infrared cameras, to monitor hydrocarbon gas venting out of the tank cars, a phenomenon called burping or off gassing. He hopes his efforts over time will force the government to increase regulation on the rail and oil industries.

“We have to protect our community,” he said. “It’s even hard for first responders to have access to this information. The U.S. government is deciding not to protect our communities so we have to stand up.”

A plume of smoke rises behind a train near Casselton, N.D., Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Reuters

Lynchburg emergency calls to 911

Repost from  ABC13, WSET TV Lynchburg, Danville, Roanoke

911 Train Derailment Tapes Released

Posted: May 05, 2014 6:43 PM PDT By James Gherardi

WSET.com – ABC13

Lynchburg, VA – The 911 recordings from Wednesday’s train derailment in downtown Lynchburg were released Monday, and the terror in the voice of some of the callers, is obvious.

You can hear men and women frantically scrambling to get help to the downtown disaster.

“Lynchburg 911, what’s the address of the emergency?” asked the dispatcher.

“We’re on Jefferson Street right now next to the tracks; we see the derailing of a train. There’s a large fire, a lot of smoke” said one caller.

Firsthand accounts of the downtown trail derailment came to life Monday.

“Do you know if anyone’s on the train?” asked the dispatcher.

“No it appears just to be a cargo train. I guess it’s carrying some type of flammable liquid” said the caller.

“It really looks like it’s going to explode and I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to move, I’m sorry” said another man.

This caller was frantic, losing his train of thought, while watching the flames fly.

“I came down by the City Hall and I saw huge black smoke. Oh my God, I can’t believe, I’m sorry” he said.

“Ok, we’ve got someone on the way” said the dispatcher.

“It’s like a huge ball of flames, it looks like it’s getting worse and it’s definitely a chemical spill probably” he replied.

Five days later, cars are clear from the river. Tracks have been relayed and trains have resumed travel.

But knowing now of the potential for what can happen here, there’s a new push.

“It caused us some significant worry and we really want to understand, what is the Federal DoT doing to make sure the regulations appropriately keep communities safe” said Senator Tim Kaine.

Virginia Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner urged the Department of Transportation Monday, to mandate upgrades in the transportation of crude oil by train, and to make sure cities are prepared to handle derailment disasters.

“You can’t prepare for a hazmat incident if you don’t know what exactly is being shipped. Your plan is only as good as the information you have about what’s coming through your community” he said.

Kaine said NTSB recommendations are one thing; whether they become safety standards is another. He said standards have got to be the case; Americans are transporting more oil by train now, than we were any year over the last decade.