Tag Archives: Vandergrift PA

Feds: Broken spike caused Vandergrift derailment, oil spill

Repost from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Feds: Broken spike caused Vandergrift derailment, oil spill

By Mary Ann Thomas, June 20, 2014
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch | A Norfolk Southern worker walks past damage from a derailed train next to the MSI Corporation building along First Avenue in Vandergrift on Thursday, on Feb. 13, 2014.

A broken railroad spike likely caused a Feb. 13 train derailment and crude oil spill in Vandergrift.

Federal investigators said the broken spike allowed the track to spread, becoming too wide for the Norfolk Southern train to pass safely.

Mike England, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration, confirmed the cause.

The investigation of the Vandergrift derailment was completed recently by the railroad agency and its report was obtained by the Valley News Dispatch through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Broken spikes do cause train derailments on occasion, England said.

No violations were reported during the federal review, and the investigation is closed, he said.

“Just because there is an accident, it doesn’t mean that the railroad did anything wrong,” England said

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said he had nothing to add to the investigators’ report.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the nation and industry must learn from rail accidents.

“The derailment in Vander-grift and others across the state should serve as a wake-up call that we need to improve rail safety,” he said in a statement on Friday.

“Dependable rail travel is vitally important to Pennsylvania’s economy and critical to the safety of the millions of Americans who live near rail lines. I will continue to push for improvements to prevent future derailments,” Casey said.

“Among other measures, it is imperative that the Federal Railroad Administration has the resources it needs to hire rail inspectors to prevent this from happening again,” he said.

Report details

According to the report, two trains used the Vandergrift track hours before the derailment without incident.

No injuries were reported among the engineer, locomotive engineer trainee and conductor on board the derailed train. Three MSI Corp. employees were evacuated when one of the rail cars went through the wall of a company building near the tracks.

The first car to derail was the 67th car in the train of 112 loaded cars and seven empty cars. The 67th through 88th cars derailed, including 19 loaded with crude oil and two with liquid propane gas.

The train originated in Conway, Pa., and was on its way to Harrisburg and points east.

After the derailment, the railroad “did a fair amount” of work on tracks in the accident area, where train traffic has resumed, Pidgeon said.

The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration this year determined the Vandergrift derailment to be the 14th most significant involving crude oil or ethanol in the past eight years. That report stated that 10,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Vandergrift derailment.

In contrast, the Federal Railroad Administration report states that only 4,310 gallons of heavy crude oil was released.

Damage to equipment in the accident is estimated at $1.76 million, according to the report.

In addition, about $240,000 in damage was caused to the track and $30,000 to a signal.

Feds: Vandergrift’s 10,000-gallon oil spill among nation’s worst in recent years

Repost from TribLive.com, Pittsburgh, PA
[Editor: This recent update about the February derailment and spill in Vandergrift, PA was sent to me by a Benicia Independent reader who grew up in Vandergrift.  She reports, “Here is a recent article citing the Vandergrift spill was actually 10,000 gallons of crude oil (way above initial estimates and reports) and has been dubbed ‘among the nation’s worst in recent years.’  Norfolk Southern is sweeping this under the rug. Please help to expose this catastrophe for what it is. I have asked them repeatedly to please help fund an emergency evacuation plan for my hometown of East Vandergrift, PA that has an emergency preparedness budget of $100 per year.  Norfolk Southern now refuses to answer or acknowledge my emails.”  – RS]

Vandergrift’s 10,000-gallon oil spill among nation’s worst in recent years

By Mary Ann Thomas | May 29, 2014
The railroad tracks next to the MSI Corp. building in Vandergrift where a train derailed in February as seen on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.  Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
The railroad tracks next to the MSI Corp. building in Vandergrift where a train derailed in February as seen on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

The federal government recently ranked the train derailment in Vandergrift in February that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil as one of the 14 worst spills over the past eight years nationwide.

Additionally, preliminary estimates of the spillage were woefully short as government records now show that close to 10,000 gallons of heavy crude oil was released — twice the amount initially reported.

The amounts of crude oil transported these days and the danger in doing so have been increasing dramatically. Of the greatest concern is Bakken shale crude, which can be explosive.

Last July, a runaway train crash in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, involving Bakken oil, incinerated much of the downtown, killing 47 people.

The train in which 21 railroad cars derailed in Vandergrift was carrying a far less volatile form of crude.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration determined the Vandergrift derailment to be the 14th most significant involving crude oil or ethanol in the past eight years. The most recent seven major derailments occurred within the past 11 months, and all involved crude oil.

Although no one was injured and there were no explosions in Vandergrift, the safety issues are the same ones currently being debated by the federal government, industry and activists:

  • The three railroad cars that released heavy crude oil and butane in Vandergrift were of the controversial variety known as DOT-111, according to Norfolk Southern. The railroad did not own those tankers, according to a spokesman. Critics dub these old-style tankers as flimsy as soda cans.
    The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an advisory urging industry to voluntarily use sturdier tankers for Bakken crude oil transportation.
  • The federal government issued an emergency order in early May requiring railroads to alert state emergency agencies about large Bakken crude shipments traveling through local communities. Shipping of crude has become widespread: In 2008, major rail companies hauled about 4,500 tanker carloads of crude, according to the Washington-based Association of American Railroads.
    Because of skyrocketing petroleum production in the Dakotas and Canada, the group estimated that trains transported more than 400,000 tanker cars of oil last year, many of them crossing Western Pennsylvania to reach refineries farther east.
  • Environmentalists as well as industry experts complain that the federal government is not doing enough quickly enough to increase safety.

The Vandergrift derailment

In the Vandergrift derailment, 21 of the 130 railroad cars jumped the track just before 8 a.m. on Feb. 13 in an area between the Kiski River and the Sherman Avenue neighborhood.

One of the derailed tanker cars slammed into a business and three others broke open, leaking thousands of gallons of oil. An undisclosed amount of contaminated soil had to be removed from the site, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

However, major damage was averted. The crude oil was not of the Bakken variety and not easily combustible. The spillage didn’t foul the nearby Kiski River. Residents did not have to be evacuated. The town was spared.

Final reports on the cleanup from DEP and the cause of the derailment are expected to be released within the month.

“We had a lot of things in our favor that day,” said Dan Stevens, spokesman for Westmoreland County Emergency Management.

“We had the wind blowing in a direction that was not affecting homes and it was 17 degrees,” he said.

The cold weather thickened the crude oil, further slowing any complications from the oil.

“If it would have been July 4, things could have been different,” he said.

Initial estimates shortly after the derailment, originally pegged that spillage at more than 1,000 gallons. As the day went on, that figure jumped to 4,500 gallons.

But the figure of almost 10,000 gallons was not released until it was referenced in a report earlier this year from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Norfolk Southern, which provided the estimates, did the best that it could at the time, according to Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon.

“When you are dealing with hazardous materials, you don’t just rush in,” he said. The tanker cars don’t have windows, and emergency responders don’t easily know how much exactly had been discharged.

“It takes a long time to unload material from derailed cars,” he said. And when responders can assess all of the derailed cars, that’s when the railroad is better able to calculate the spillage, he said.

John Poister, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, noted that by the time a more accurate figure for the spillage was available, there weren’t follow-up media reports.

Future protection

Although, the federal Department of Transportation issued a voluntary request for shippers to use sturdier tankers than the DOT-111, many are not satisfied.

Even some railroads aren’t satisfied.

The tank car safety requirements are set by two agencies, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee.

“That committee has for many years pushed for stricter standards for cars than those set by PHMSA,” said Pidgeon.

Last November, the Association of American Railroads urged U.S. Department of Transportation’s hazmat administration to increase federal tank car safety by requiring that all tank cars used to transport flammable liquids be built to a higher standard.

It also is calling for all existing cars to be retrofitted to this higher standard or phased out of flammable service, according to the Association of American Railroads website.

But the fear of explosion shouldn’t be the only incentive, according to activists.

“We’ve seen the spills happen with these kinds of rail cars,” said Joanne Kilgour, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The spill in Vandergrift – 10,000 gallon is still significant,” she said.

“Even though there wasn’t an explosion, it shouldn’t have required an explosion and the loss of the life to retire outdated rail cars,” she said.

The recent requirement for notification of the shipping of Bakken crude is good for awareness but it isn’t going to change much, according to Stevens.

“If a train derails, it derails. What are you going to do? It doesn’t matter what is hauling,” Stevens said. “At the county level, our guys prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

The dark side of the oil boom – analysis of federal data from more than 400 oil-train incidents since 1971

Repost from Politico

The dark side of the oil boom

By Kathryn A. Wolfe and Bob King | 6/18/14

Communities throughout the U.S. and Canada are waking up to the dark side of North America’s energy boom: Trains hauling crude oil are crashing, exploding and spilling in record numbers as a fast-growing industry outpaces the federal government’s oversight.

In the 11 months since a runaway oil train derailed in the middle of a small town in Quebec, incinerating 47 people, the rolling virtual pipelines have unleashed crude oil into an Alabama swamp, forced more than 1,000 North Dakota residents to evacuate, dangled from a bridge in Philadelphia and smashed into an industrial building near Pittsburgh. The latest serious accident was April’s fiery crash in Lynchburg, Virginia, where even the mayor had been unaware oil was rolling through his city.

(WATCH: News coverage of recent oil train spills)

A POLITICO analysis of federal data from more than 400 oil-train incidents since 1971 shows that a once-uncommon threat has escalated dramatically in the past five years:

  • This year has already shattered the record for property damage from U.S. oil-train accidents, with a toll exceeding $10 million through mid-May — nearly triple the damage for all of 2013. The number of incidents so far this year — 70 — is also on pace to set a record.
  • Almost every region of the U.S. has been touched by an oil-train incident. These episodes are spreading as more refineries take crude from production hot spots like North Dakota’s Bakken region and western Canada, while companies from California and Washington state to Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida build or expand terminals for moving oil from trains to barges, trucks or pipelines.
  • The voluntary reforms that DOT and industry have enacted so far might not have prevented the worst accidents. For example, the department announced a voluntary 40 mph speed limit this year for oil trains traveling through densely populated areas, but DOT’s hazardous-incident database shows only one accident in the past five years involving speeds exceeding that threshold. And unlike Canada’s transportation ministry, DOT has not yet set a mandatory deadline for companies to replace or upgrade their tank cars.

Starting this month, DOT is requiring railroads to share more timely information with state emergency managers about the trains’ cargoes and routes. But some railroads are demanding that states sign confidentiality agreements, citing security risks.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says each step is a move in the right direction.

“There’s been such exponential growth in the excavation of this crude oil that it’s basically outrun our normal systems,” Foxx said in an interview. But Foxx, who became secretary four days before the Quebec disaster, added: “We’ve been focused on this since I came in. … We’re going to get this right.”

Defending the voluntary speed limits, Foxx said: “You have to understand that all these pieces fit together. So a stronger tank car with lower speeds is safer than a less strong tank car at higher speeds.”

Members of Congress are joining the call for more action.

“The boom in domestic oil production has turned many railways and small communities across our country into de facto oil pipelines, and the gold-rush-type phenomenon has unfortunately put our regulators behind the eight ball,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been pushing for stricter safety and disclosure rules. “It has become abundantly clear that there are a whole slew of freight rail safety measures that, while for many years have been moving through the gears of bureaucracy, must now be approved and implemented in haste.”

Sierra Club staff attorney Devorah Ancel said the rising damage toll should “ring alarm bells in the minds of our decision-makers, from cities all the way up to Congress and the president.”

“Our fear is that the regulators are being pushed over by the industry,” she said.

Like the oil boom itself, the surge in oil-train traffic has come much faster than anyone expected. Meanwhile, the trains face less onerous regulations than other ways of moving oil, including pipelines like TransCanada’s Keystone XL project.

Keystone, which would carry oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, has waited more than five years for a permit from the Obama administration while provoking a national debate about climate change. But no White House approval was needed for all the trains carrying Canadian oil into the United States. In fact, freight railroads in the U.S. are considered “common carriers” for hazardous materials, meaning they can’t refuse to ship it as long as it meets federal guidelines.

The oil-trains issue is bringing a flurry of foot traffic to the White House Office of Management and Budget these days as railroad and oil industry representatives press their case on what any new regulations should look like. Representatives of the country’s leading hauler of Bakken crude, Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway, met with OMB regulatory chief Howard Shelanski on June 3 and June 6, and joined people from railroads including CSX, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern in another meeting June 10.

DOT says it has been working to address the problem since as far back as September 2012, and that efforts accelerated after Foxx took over in July. His chief of staff, Sarah Feinberg, holds a meeting each morning on the issue, and she and Foxx meet regularly with top leadership at the two key DOT agencies that oversee railroads and the transport of hazardous materials.

The voluntary agreements that Foxx’s department has worked out with the freight rail industry and shippers address issues like track inspections, speed limits, brakes and additional signaling equipment. Those are all “relevant when dealing with reducing risk” from oil train traffic, the freight rail industry’s main trade group said in a statement.

“The number one and two causes of all main track accidents are track or equipment related,” the Association of American Railroads said. The statement added, “That is how the industry came up with the steps in the voluntary agreement in February aimed at reducing risks of these kinds of accidents when moving crude oil by rail.”

Meanwhile, the oil train business is primed to get bigger. Even TransCanada might start using rail to ship oil to the U.S. while waiting for Keystone to get the green light, CEO Russ Girling said in an interview in May — despite agreeing that trains are a costlier and potentially more dangerous option.

“If anybody thinks that is a better idea, that’s delusional,” Girling said.

In fact, the State Department estimated this month that because of the risks of rail compared with pipelines, an additional 189 injuries and 28 deaths would occur every year if trains end up carrying the oil intended for Keystone.

But environmentalists who warn about the dangers of crude-by-rail say it would be wrong to turn the issue into an excuse to approve Keystone. For one thing, the Texas-bound pipeline would replace only part of the train traffic, which has spread its tendrils all across the U.S. “There are no pipelines that run from North Dakota to the West Coast,” the Sierra Club’s Ancel said.