Tag Archives: Riverkeeper

Potentially explosive trains rolling past 55 schools along a 60 mile stretch in NY and NJ

Repost from WABC TV7 Eyewitness News, New York, NY
[Editor: Trains actually pass right UNDER one school.  A shocking video and excellent investigative reporting.  Someone really should research and list the schools (and other vital structures) along the Union Pacific tracks proposed as the route for Valero Benicia crude-by-rail.
UPDATE, Nov. 1, 2014 – Note previous NRDC study on this issue in California, especially p. 3 of It Could Happen Here, The Exploding Threat of Crude by Rail in California, which lists the number of schools.  More detailed mapping is available on the NRDC’s Risk Zone Maps.  – RS] 

The Investigators: Potentially explosive trains rolling through New York, New Jersey neighborhoods

By Jim Hoffer, October 31, 2014

Fed Measures on Crude Oil Fall Short, Put Protected Estuaries and Heritage Areas at Risk

Repost from HuffPost GREEN, The Blog
[Editor: Note reference near the end on federally designated National Heritage Areas and Estuaries of National Significance which “require special protection from potential explosions and spills. Rerouting bomb trains away from such specially designated regions would avert a disaster-waiting-to-happen to prime assets along their rail lines.”   The San Francisco Estuary Partnership is one of 28 Estuaries of National Significance.  (I am trying to confirm that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a National Heritage Area – their website is out of date.)  How might these agencies be brought into the discussion on Valero Crude By Rail?    – RS] 

Fed Measures on Crude Oil Fall Short, Put Hudson River at Risk

By Ned Sullivan, President, Scenic Hudson and Paul Gallay, President, Hudson Riverkeeper, 10/21/2014

Last May, we wrote about how the Hudson River Valley has become a virtual pipeline for the transport of highly flammable Bakken crude oil in unsafe DOT-111 railcars–the same tankers whose derailment has caused numerous explosions across the U.S. and the death of 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Canada.

Since then, very little has changed, which means the situation has just gotten worse.

Each day, more than 320 of these oil-laden cars continue to pass through our communities and along the shores of the Hudson River, one of the world’s most biologically diverse tidal estuaries. To date, we’ve escaped disaster, although three trains pulling empty DOT-111s have derailed in the Hudson Valley. Each time a rail accident occurs in the region, as it did just last week, the environmental community holds its breath, expecting the worst.

What will happen if cars full of Bakken crude do go off the tracks? The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), quoting the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), recently provided the answer: They “can almost always be expected to breach,” making them “vulnerable to fire.” The result would be catastrophic to the public health, vital natural and historic resources, and drinking water supplies of a region stretching from Albany to New York Harbor. It would cause long-lasting, if not permanent, damage to the estuary’s entire ecosystem and the foundation of a vibrant, $4.75-billion tourism economy.

Both Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper have been advocating vigorously for increased federal protections, including an immediate ban on the use of DOT-111s for transporting crude. Therefore, we were bitterly disappointed and frankly frustrated by new draft regulations proposed by the PHMSA regarding tanker redesign and other measures for reducing the risks of explosions and spills from these “bomb trains.” They just don’t go far enough fast enough, meaning our communities remain at grave risk. It also means the proposed rules don’t comply with federal law, which requires strict safety upgrades that will protect the public.

In formal comments on the regulations our organizations submitted jointly, we outline how the PHMSA’s rules are replete with loopholes and weak safety proposals.

  • Despite acknowledging the safety hazards of DOT-111s, the proposed regulations would very slowly phase out their use for transporting Bakken crude and allow 23,000 of these outdated, dangerous cars to remain on the rails for shipping heavy Canadian tar sands crude, which presents different but equally serious safety and environmental risks.
  • The regulations fail to require full disclosure of rail traffic information to first responders, and instead ask the industry if it would prefer to keep this information confidential.
  • The regulations fail to require the most protective braking improvements or speed restrictions, and fail to even consider limits on the length of trains that could reduce accident risks and impacts of a derailment.
  • The regulations would allow railroads to continue operating 120-car trains of Bakken crude oil without requiring any train-specific spill response plans–despite the fact that a 120-car train carries as much oil as an oil barge or tanker, both of which must have spill response plans approved by the Coast Guard.

Put simply, these rules defer to the rail and oil industries at every turn–and they won’t stop the next bomb train disaster. As the NTSB warned in its official comments on these proposed rules, “Each delay in implementing a new design requirement allows the construction of more insufficiently protected tank cars that will both increase the immediate risks to communities and require costly modification later.” Further, the NTSB concludes that the government’s proposed standards for new and existing tank cars offer options that “do not achieve an acceptable level of safety and protection.”

We deserve real protection for our communities and the environment. And we deserve it now.

For these reasons, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson have called on the PHMSA to issue an emergency order requiring immediate adoption of the most stringent tank car standards, speed restrictions and use of electronic controlled pneumatic braking in all trains carrying crude, as well as closing loopholes in the rule that leave heavy tar sands crude and trains carrying fewer than 20 cars of Bakken crude completely unaddressed. (Scenic Hudson also has called for rules requiring Bakken crude to be processed at its source in North Dakota, making it much less volatile for shipment. This is done at many Texas oil fields.)

In addition, we are calling on federal rail regulators to designate the Hudson River Valley, as well as other similarly situated regions, highly important natural and cultural resources under PHMSA routing regulations. This means that the natural and cultural resources within this federally designated National Heritage Area (one of only 49) and Estuary of National Significance (one of 28) require special protection from potential explosions and spills. Rerouting bomb trains away from such specially designated regions would avert a disaster-waiting-to-happen to prime assets along their rail lines. In the Hudson Valley, those assets include six drinking water intakes; 91 state, county and municipal parks; 40 Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Areas; nine colleges; 69 public schools and 80 medical facilities.

The federal government has the responsibility to ensure the public’s safety. Until Washington steps up and fulfills this obligation, we’ll have to keep on holding our breath.

Outdated tank cars carry explosive crude in NY; feds seek refit

Repost from lohud.com, the Journal News
[Editor: Check out the map of rail routes in NY State showing schools, hospitals and shopping centers along the oil train tracks.  (Zoom in on the area about 35 miles north of New York City.)  – RS]

Outdated tankers carry explosive crude; feds seek refit

Khurram Saeed, August 16, 2014

When you see an oil train roll by, you’re probably looking at a DOT-111 tank car.

The DOT-111s are an industry workhorse. They’ve been around for decades and make up 68 percent of the 335,000 tank cars in active use.

Until recently, the non-pressurized cars weren’t used to haul oil. That changed with the Bakken oil boom and when rail became the modern-day pipelines.

The federal government now wants the industry to retrofit or replace them over the next two years in the name of safety. Currently, 100,000 DOT-111s move crude oil and ethanol but only 20,000 meet the latest safety standards, making the older models susceptible to ripping open in a derailment or collision.

Railroads like CSX own fewer than 1 percent of the tank cars; most are owned by the oil industry and leasing firms, the Association of American Railroads says.

The U.S. Department of Transportation wants new tank cars to have thicker outer shells, thermal protection, a full-height head shield, rollover safeguards for top fittings and removable handles on valves that protrude from the bottom of the cars to reduce the risk of opening in an accident.

Eric de Place, a policy director at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, said the valves, which are used to drain fluid, likely would remain even though federal investigators have found they can shear off or open in derailments, causing the car’s contents to spill and possibly catch fire.

“Generally speaking, the oil producers — abetted by the oil shippers and the railroads themselves — have encouraged a go-slow approach to upgrading safety standards,” de Place wrote in an email. “They are principally concerned that requirements to use new tank cars or to retrofit existing ones would cost money and reduce the fleet available to move oil in the near term.”

Phil Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, said the rules do not go “nearly far enough” to protect the public and the environment, and include loopholes. He said the safer tank cars would only have to be used on trains that have 20 or more rail cars hauling flammable liquids.

“If they don’t like these safety standards, they can continue to ship oil in mixed trains with 19 older DOT-111s on them,” Musegaas said. “It doesn’t take 20 of these cars to cause a horrific accident.”

Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have called on the DOT to ban use of the tank cars immediately, citing an imminent risk to the public.

“How we ship this oil can be figured out later,” Musegaas said. “We need to protect communities that live near these oil trains.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has been calling for stricter standards for the “dangerous, crude-carrying” DOT-111s since last year.

“These much-needed regulations will phase out the aged and explosion-prone DOT-111 tanker cars that are hauling endless streams of highly flammable crude oil through Rockland and Westchester counties and lead to commonsense safety measures — like speed limits, new braking controls and standards for a safer tank car — that will further safeguard local communities,” Schumer said.

A newer-model tank car known as the CPC-1232 features many of the higher standards the DOT is seeking but they are not invincible. On April 30, a 105-car CSX oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Va.  Several of the 17 tank cars that went off the track fell into the James River, and a CPC-1232 spilled about 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, causing a massive fire. No one was injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which raised issues about the DOT-111s several years ago, said it has concerns about the newer tank cars.

“We have found that the 1232 is also not as robust as is needed,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.