Tag Archives: Train length

Oil trains are too long and too heavy

Repost from The Oregonian
[Editor: A poignant opinion piece by an informed advocate.  Jared Margolis is an attorney working for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Portland office on issues related to energy and endangered species.  – RS]

Oil trains are too long and too heavy

By Jared Margolis, December 11, 2014
In this Sept. 16 file photo, rail cars containing oil sit on tracks south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Even to the most reasonable among us here in the Northwest, the lonely cry of the train whistle in the night is no longer a very comforting sound. You can’t help but wonder if it’s announcing the arrival of one of the 20 or so trains of up to 100 tanker cars that pass through the region in an average week, each one carrying up to 3 million gallons of explosive crude oil.

The exponential increase in risk posed by these trains has been highlighted by an unprecedented wave of accidents, including the explosive derailment in Quebec that incinerated part of a town and killed 47 people, and another in downtown Lynchburg, Va., that set the James River on fire, putting wildlife habitat and drinking water supplies at risk.

More crude oil was spilled by rail in 2013 — in excess of 1 million gallons — than between all the years from 1975 to 2012, according to an analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Between 2008 and 2013 there was nearly a tenfold increase in crude-by-rail spills, from eight to 119.

Yet, as the amount of volatile crude oil hurtling through Oregon towns, cities and sensitive waterfront landscapes continues to increase, proposals to reduce the danger have failed to focus on what federal regulators acknowledge to be among the most important factors making crude oil trains more likely to derail than most trains: the length and weight of each train.

Instead, proposals from federal regulators have been limited to giving the rail industry five years to stop hauling explosive crude oil in the most puncture-prone tanker cars, which PHMSA has stated will actually lead to longer, heavier trains. The length and weight of tanker trains hauling crude oil has been singled out by regulators as one of the leading causes of several disastrous derailments in recent years. Those increased risks are demonstrated by the simple fact that while the number of overall train derailments is dropping, the number of oil train derailments is escalating.

PHMSA’s own analysis has determined oil trains “are longer, heavier in total, more challenging to control … [and] can be more prone to derailments when put in emergency braking.” That’s why I co-authored a legal petition, filed with PHMSA last month, asking the agency to establish rules limiting trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous liquids to 4,000 tons — the weight that the American Association of Railroads has determined to be a “no problem” train, considered much less likely to derail. This safety guideline is currently exceeded threefold by the 100-car crude oil trains rumbling through Oregon.

And the risks posed by these long, over-heavy oil trains are only expected to grow: Analysts project the amount of oil being transported to California refineries by train to increase more than tenfold by 2016, much of it moving through Oregon.

It only makes sense to take aggressive, reasonable precautions to protect people and wildlife against this escalating, unacceptable danger.

•  Jared Margolis is an attorney working for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Portland office on issues related to energy and endangered species.

Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil and Hazardous Material Trains to Prevent More Derailments

Repost from The Center For Biological Diversity
[Editor: Download the 11-page petition here.  – RS]

Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 25, 2014
Contact: Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6404, JMargolis@biologicaldiversity.org
Leah Rae, Riverkeeper, (914) 478-4501 x 238, LRae@riverkeeper.org

  Petition Seeks to Limit Length, Weight of Oil and
Hazardous Material Trains to Prevent More Derailments

Existing Federal Proposals Fail to Sufficiently Protect Public, Environment From “Bomb Trains”

PORTLAND, Ore.— In the face of a dramatic rise in trains carrying explosive crude oil and derailing in a series of devastating accidents, the Center for Biological Diversity and Riverkeeper, Inc. today petitioned the Obama administration to protect the public and environment by significantly reducing the risk of oil train derailments by limiting the length and weight of trains hauling oil and other hazardous liquids.

Federal regulators have acknowledged that the weight and length of oil trains has contributed to derailments and spills in recent years, and that, in all cases, the size of a train compounds the potential significance of a disaster. But agencies have not proposed any solutions to address this concern. In fact the latest federal proposal aimed at improving tanker car safety admits the rule could result in longer, heavier trains.

“One of the quickest ways to make these oil trains safer is limiting how much of this volatile crude oil they can carry,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “The government has acknowledged the dangers of these massive trains — now it needs to take action to protect people and wildlife from spills and derailments.”

Today’s petition calls for oil trains to be limited to 4,000 tons, which is the weight the American Association of Railroads has determined to be a “no problem” train, meaning there would be significantly less risk of derailment. This would limit oil trains to 30 cars. Most oil trains today include about 100 cars — well beyond what the industry has determined to be truly safe.

“Federal regulators have admitted these oil trains pose a significant risk to life, property and the environment, and granting our petition would significantly reduce those risks,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper. “The government, to date, has left the lid off this explosive industry — setting a cap on train length and weight is a necessary, logical, safety step that is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risks that our communities, first responders and ecosystems are confronted with on a daily basis.”

Oil transport, especially by rail, has dramatically increased in recent years, growing from virtually nothing in 2008 to more than 400,000 rail cars of oil in 2013. Billions of gallons of oil pass through towns and cities ill equipped to respond to the kinds of explosions and spills that have been occurring. A series of fiery oil-train derailments in the United States and Canada has resulted in life-threatening explosions and hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil being spilled into waterways.

The worst was a derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people, forced the evacuation of 2,000 people, and incinerated portions of a popular tourist town. The most recent explosive derailment occurred in April in downtown Lynchburg, Va., resulting in crude oil leaking out of punctured tank cars, setting the James River on fire and putting habitat and drinking water supplies at risk.

Without regulations that will effectively prevent derailments, oil trains will continue to threaten people, drinking water supplies and wildlife, including endangered species.

“This petition directly tackles one of the root causes of these dangerous, unnecessary oil train derailments,” said Margolis. “We’ll continue to push regulators until they step up and ensure the safety of people, wildlife and the environment we all share.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Riverkeeper is a member-supported environmental watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and to protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents.