Tag Archives: Virginia

New Jersey firefighters warn county officials they don’t have staff, equipment, expertise; suggest the county buy equipment and bill CSX

Repost from NorthJersey.com

Firefighters want Bergen County plan for oil train accidents

October 21, 2014, By Scott Fallon
Lt. Matthew Tiedemann, the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management coordinator, talking about the newer cars that carry Bakken crude oil at the summit for first responders.
Lt. Matthew Tiedemann, the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management coordinator, talking about the newer cars that carry Bakken crude oil at the summit for first responders. | CHRIS PEDOTA/staff photographer

Local firefighters warned Bergen County officials on Monday that they don’t have the manpower, equipment or expertise required should there be an accident involving trains carrying millions of gallons of volatile Bakken crude oil that pass through their towns every day.

At a meeting of about 75 first responders in Hackensack, emergency officials said a coordinated countywide approach is the only way to deal with a potential derailment involving the enormous increase of trains carrying Bakken crude. The highly flammable oil has been involved in several fiery crashes throughout North America in the past year.

More than 60,000 tank cars, each containing as much as 3 million gallons of crude oil, are expected to be hauled on the CSX River Line through 11 Bergen County towns this year — almost triple the amount from last year, county emergency management officials said Monday.

“The rapid growth is going to be beyond anything we can contain,” said Bergenfield Fire Chief Jason Lanzilotti, who held a response drill to an oil train derailment over the summer. “Evacuation is a major problem. Fire suppression is out of the question. There has to be some kind of framework so that not every town is individually looking at what needs to be done.”

Over the past few years, Bergen County has become a major corridor for oil with 15 to 30 trains traveling every week on the CSX River Line from New York. They enter New Jersey in Northvale |and travel past thousands of homes and businesses in Norwood, Harrington Park, Closter, Haworth, Dumont, Bergenfield, Teaneck, Bogota, Ridgefield Park and Ridgefield. The trains eventually pass through the central part of the state, crossing the Delaware River near Trenton on their way to a refinery in Philadelphia.

The oil originates in a geological formation called the Bakken shale in a remote area of North Dakota where pipelines are scarce. About 33 million barrels were filled in August — seven 7 million barrels more than the same time last year, according to the latest government data.

Although there have been recent fiery accidents in North Dakota, Alabama and Virginia involving the oil trains, no one was severely injured. But one of the worst rail disasters in recent memory happened last summer when a train carrying 72 tanker cars full of Bakken crude derailed in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The crude ignited and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying most of the downtown.

“You could just picture if this were to happen in a densely populated area in Bergen County where the houses are almost next to the train tracks,” said Lt. Matthew Tiedemann, coordinator of Bergen County’s Office of Emergency Management.

Tiedemann led the meeting, which was also attended by Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, county fire officials and several freeholders.

Tiedemann talked about different methods firefighters may take in dealing with an oil train fire. He said it may be more dangerous to try to put a fire out immediately since the oil could flow away from the wreckage and reignite elsewhere.

“If you put that fire out and there are still 15,000 gallons of Bakken oil in that car, where is that Bakken oil going to flow?” he said. “How are you going to keep that car cool enough so it doesn’t spontaneously combust again? And how are you going to clean that all up once it flows out of the cars?”

Several first responders said they need equipment like booms, large quantities of foam retardant and absorbent materials to deal with a potential fire and spill, saying it would take the county time to move that equipment if a crisis occurred.

One particular area of concern is that the oil trains cross a small bridge over the upper reaches of the Oradell Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to 750,000 people. Harrington Park Fire Marshall Tom Simpson said there was no way his volunteer fire department nor any of the ones in surrounding towns could stop thousands of gallons of oil from going into the reservoir.

“Any spill above the reservoir is going to contaminate the reservoir,” said Simpson who suggested that the county buy the equipment for local towns and then bill CSX. “We don’t have the equipment to contain that much flow into the reservoir.”

Bergenfield fire Capt.ain Jim Kirsch said putting the equipment near the rail line could be a bad idea. “I walk out my [firehouse] door, I walk 20 feet and I’m on the track bed,” he said. “A derailment in Bergenfield means I’m probably going to have a tank car in my firehouse.

“It’s a countywide problem and it has to be dealt with on a countywide scale,” he said.

Seattle emergency planners: Oil train hazard in 100-year-old tunnel

Repost from The Columbian
[Editor: An important local study, calling for better disaster preparedness.  Significant quote – “…oil trains travel through three significant zones in Seattle: passing within blocks of two stadiums, through the downtown tunnel, and along the north end, which has limited access because of high banks along the waterfront.”  – RS]

Oil trains called hazard in old Seattle tunnel

Report says railroad, city must prepare to limit a catastrophe
By PHUONG LE, Associated Press, September 16, 2014
A long line of rail tanker cars sits on tracks south of Seattle, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. In a report to the Seattle City Council, city emergency planners say more must be done to lower the risk of a possible oil train accident and improve the city’s ability to respond. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren/AP)

SEATTLE — With increasing numbers of trains carrying volatile crude oil through Seattle’s “antiquated” downtown rail tunnel, city emergency planners say more must be done to lower the risk of an oil train accident and improve the city’s ability to respond.

In a report to the Seattle City Council, emergency managers warned that an oil train accident resulting in fire, explosion or spill “would be a catastrophe for our community in terms of risk to life, property and environment.”

BNSF Railway can make immediate safety improvements in the mile-long 100-year-old rail tunnel that runs under downtown Seattle, including installing radio communication, a fire suppression system to release water and foam, and a permanent ventilation system, according to the report written by Barb Graff, who directs the city’s office of emergency management, and Seattle assistant fire chief A.D. Vickery.

About one or two mile-long trains a day carrying shipments of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and Canada through the city of about 630,000 residents.

Several refineries in the state are receiving shipments of crude oil, and the others are upgrading facilities to accept oil trains. Once refineries are able to accommodate additional shipments, three or more trains could pass through Seattle each day, the city report said.

Oil trains currently enter Washington state near Spokane, and travel through the Tri-Cities and along the Columbia River before traversing Seattle to refineries to the north. In the state, as many as 17 trains carry about 1 million gallons of crude oil a week through several counties, including Spokane, Benton and Clark, BNSF reported to the state in July.

“We know they can explode. We’ve seen the tragedy in Canada. We know they can derail. That happened two months ago in our own city,” said Councilor Mike O’Brien, whose committee scheduled a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the report. “We have to treat this as a real threat.”

Oil-train derailments have caused explosions in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama and Oklahoma, as well as in Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway train exploded in Lac-Megantic in July 2013.

Two months ago in Seattle, three tanker cars derailed as an oil train bound for a refinery in Anacortes pulled out of a rail yard in Seattle. BNSF officials noted at the time that nothing spilled, and a hazardous materials crew was on the scene in 5 minutes, but the incident raised new concerns.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the railway has improved tracks and roadbed to ensure that trains travel the tunnel safely. He said the concrete-lined tunnel is inspected regularly and is “structurally safe.”

“We’ll review the (city) report further,” he said. “We take safety extremely seriously and the operation of trains is a top priority, and we’ll continue to enhance our safety process.”

The railway plans to locate a safety trailer with foam equipment and extinguishers in the Seattle area, and plans to continue to train Seattle firefighters and responders.

Seattle’s report notes that oil trains travel through three significant zones in Seattle: passing within blocks of two stadiums, through the downtown tunnel, and along the north end, which has limited access because of high banks along the waterfront.

“The tunnel runs under all of downtown. What happens if something goes wrong there?” O’Brien said. “We’ve heard the fire department say we aren’t sure we can send firefighters to fight if it’s too dangerous.”

Oil trains typically move at about 10 mph through the tunnel, less than the maximum speed of 20 mph, and do not operate in the tunnel at the same time as a passenger train, BNSF’s Melonas said.

A derailment and fire involving Bakken oil tank cars could stress fire department resources, the report said. It recommends limiting track speeds in high-density urban areas, and that the railroad company help pay for specialized training, sponsor annual drills to respond to tank car emergencies and provide a foam response vehicle to use in case of an oil train accident.

Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline Institute, an environmental think tank, said other local governments should be doing similar reviews.

“Railroads don’t carry near the rail insurance they need,” he said. “If there’s a meaningful risk, the railroads should have to be insured against it and they should have to find private insurance.”

New Jersey town council presses for moratorium on use of older tank cars

[Editor: Significant quote by Teaneck Town Councilman Mark Schwarz: “‘If we’re all going to sit here and wait for our [Legislative] District 37 leadership and Congress’ to act, ‘then we’re going to die of old age.'”  – RS]

Teaneck Council presses for moratorium on use of older tank cars on oil trains through town


TEANECK — Local officials are pushing for a moratorium on the use of old tankers to carry millions of gallons of highly explosive materials on rail tracks through town.

Tank cars lining the CSX tracks near Cedar Lane in Teaneck in May. Fifteen to 30 oil trains pass each week through 11 Bergen County towns.
Tank cars lining the CSX tracks near Cedar Lane in Teaneck in May. Fifteen to 30 oil trains pass each week through 11 Bergen County towns. | CHRIS PEDOTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Residents and members of the Township Council have expressed concern about the safety risks posed by crude oil traveling in substandard railcars that federal regulators have cautioned against.

The Record has reported that at least 7 million gallons per day of highly combustible Bakken crude oil comes through 11 Bergen County towns — Northvale, Norwood, Harrington Park, Closter, Haworth, Dumont, Bergenfield, Teaneck, Bogota, Ridgefield Park and Ridgefield – on the CSX River Line.

Concerns over the crude on the railways have mounted in recent months after a series of fiery accidents and derailments in North Dakota, Alabama and Virginia. Last summer, 47 people were killed when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in a small Quebec town.

The Teaneck Council passed a resolution Tuesday night calling for the temporary ban until federal regulators have deemed the tankers adequate. Though ceremonial, the council hopes neighboring North Jersey communities will join in amplifying the message.

“The transportation of this material in such close proximity to homes, businesses and our water supply, raises serious public safety concerns and requires that we take immediate action to eliminate this hazard,” the resolution states.

Mayor Lizette Parker on Tuesday night said the township should hold federal lawmakers accountable, while other members of the council asked for development of a township emergency response plan, in the event of a derailment.

“This is a safety issue that needs to be important to them,” Parker said. “We do have the power of influence. And I don’t mean the seven of us” on the council. “I mean the 39,000 of us.”

Councilman Jason Castle urged his colleagues to consider an emergency management plan he said he circulated “two sessions ago.”

“My daughter just started school at the Rodda Center — she’s at the preschool there and the tracks run right by the Rodda Center,” he said.

Councilmen Henry Pruitt and Mark Schwartz said the township should find other strategies that don’t rely on action from officials in Trenton and Washington.

“If we’re all going to sit here and wait for our [Legislative] District 37 leadership and Congress” to act, “then we’re going to die of old age,” Schwartz said.

Enlisting other towns

While New Jersey officials declined to reveal the number of trains that travel on the rail line, citing security risks, documents provided by New York State officials showed between 15 and 30 oil trains are entering Bergen County from Rockland County each week. The trains also travel through Hudson, Essex, Union, Middlesex, Somerset and Mercer counties, according to a map on CSX’s website.

Rail executives this year agreed to more track inspections and a reduction in train speeds in highly populated areas, but they haven’t been swapping out their fleet of old tanker cars. Even though the National Transportation Safety Board has called the tankers inadequate for transporting such flammable materials, federal officials are only recommending that railway companies stop shipping crude in the old cars.

Two weeks ago, the Teaneck Council asked Township Manager William Broughton to send letters to the other Bergen County municipalities along the CSX line. Broughton told the council he had not received any responses as of Tuesday.

The manager also said the township is already working with CSX “on this issue of preparedness and response.” This week, CSX paid for one of the township’s deputy fire chiefs to attend safety training in Pueblo, Colo. The course deals specifically with fires from crude oil, Broughton said.

Residents at Tuesday’s meeting praised the council’s attention to the issue. Some even vowed to take drastic measures to stop the trains from coming past their homes and businesses and force federal reforms.

“I will personally sit on those tracks, and anyone else who wants to can join me,” said Paula Rogovin, who organized a protest at one of the railway bridges in town.

Merced Sun-Star editorial: Tell us when dangerous oil cars are rolling

Repost from The Merced Sun-Star

Our View: Tell us when dangerous oil cars are rolling

Editorial, August 15, 2014

Railroad tracks run up and down the valley like a spine, carrying everything from cans to cars, telephone poles to toothpicks. Many communities see 30, 40 or even 50 trains a day.  Some of those cars carry dangerous materials. Compressed gas and caustic chemicals move in black, cylindrical tank cars adorned with two markings – the red diamond with a flame and “DOT 111” stenciled on each car.

Not yet, but soon some of those rail cars will be hauling another dangerous material – crude oil extracted from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. While it is no more dangerous than many other chemicals, there’s likely to be a lot more of it on the rails that bisect our communities. The railroads and state must make certain that we are aware of these movements and have a plan for dealing with any emergency.

California’s Office of Emergency Services estimates shipments of Bakken crude will increase 25-fold by 2016 as 150 million barrels are sent to refineries in the Bay Area, Southern California and soon to two being readied in Bakersfield. That could mean thousands of tank cars a year moving through Modesto, Livingston, Merced and beyond. Mother Jones magazine calls it a “virtual pipeline.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Bakken crude contains higher amounts of butane, ethane and propane than other crude oils, making it too volatile for actual pipelines.

In July, 2013, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Less dramatic derailments, some with fires, have occurred in North Dakota, Virginia and Illinois. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 108 crude spills last year.

“When you look at the lines of travel from Canada and North Dakota, you figure if they’re headed for the Bay Area or to Bakersfield, the odds are that you’re going to see shipments going down the Valley,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who represents north Sacramento. So, he authored Assembly Bill 380, which would require the railroads to notify area first-responders whenever these trains are passing through.

Others are concerned, too. In July, the DOT issued proposed rules for safe transport, including increased cargo sampling, better route analysis, a 40 mph speed limit on trains labeled “high-hazard flammable,” and switching to newer, safer DOT 111 cars after Oct. 1, 2015. The new cars have double steel walls, better closures and heavier carriages. Currently, they make up about a third of the nation’s tanker fleet. California’s Office of Emergency Services has issued 12 recommendations, ranging from allowing better data collection to phasing out those old tank cars to better training for first-responders.

The railroads are already doing many of these things. Since the mid-1990s, BNSF has offered – at no charge – training for handling spilled hazardous materials and more extreme emergencies. But not enough local agencies have found the time to take the classes. A BNSF spokeswoman said the railroad would even come to town to conduct the training.

In May, the USDOT issued an emergency order in May requiring all carriers to inform first responders about crude oil moving through their towns and for the immediate development of plans to handle spills. Unfortunately, it contains a discomforting criteria: the order applies only to trains carrying 1 million gallons of Bakken crude, or roughly 35 tank cars. And to reach USDOT’s definition of a “high-hazard flammable train,” also requiring a warning, a train must have 20 tank cars.

Some perspective. In Virginia, one one tank car carrying Bakken crude exploded and flew an estimated 5,500 feet; a photograph of another explosion showed a fireball rising 700 feet from a single car. Our first responders ought to know when even one car carrying such material is coming through town. And that information must be shared beyond communities directly on rail lines because even our largest communities count on neighboring agencies to provide assistance during emergencies. When such cargo is moving, every emergency responder in the vicinity should be on alert.

Currently, the railroads share that information only if a local agency asks for it. That’s not good enough. Dickinson’s bill would make notification available on a real-time basis, without asking. But his bill mirrors federal orders on the size of the train; a dangerous loophole.

The incredible expansion of America’s oil resources is creating many positives – from more jobs to less dependence on foreign oil. But it’s happening so fast that we’re making up the safety aspects as we roll along. Federal rules don’t go nearly far enough to protect public safety in this new world.