Category Archives: Hazardous cargo transparency

Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no

Repost from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no

By Lee Bergquist, Sept. 13, 2015
A flotilla of kayaks and boats and a small crowd onshore hold banners and beat drums Sunday to raise concerns about the transport by rail of oil through Milwaukee and across an aging railroad bridge at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers near S. 1st Place.
A flotilla of kayaks and boats and a small crowd onshore hold banners and beat drums Sunday to raise concerns about the transport by rail of oil through Milwaukee and across an aging railroad bridge at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers near S. 1st Place. | Michael Sears

Despite urging from a federal agency that railroads hand over more information on safety conditions of bridges, a carrier moving Bakken crude oil through Milwaukee says it doesn’t plan to provide such details.

Trains carrying Bakken crude go through downtown Milwaukee, leaving some residents afraid of what will happen if there is a spill. This train passes by the apartment of Brian Chiu on W. Oregon St. | Brian Chiu

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) distributed a letter from Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in which the regulator urged railroad carriers to provide more information to municipalities on the safety status of bridges. Milwaukee officials have complained about the lack of information on the structural integrity of railroad bridges used by Canadian Pacific in the city.

“When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response,” Feinberg wrote.

“I urge you to engage more directly with local leaders and provide more timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound.”

“CP’s position has not changed,” said Andy Cummings, a manager of media relations for the company.

“It is our policy to work directly with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is our regulator, on any concerns they have with our infrastructure.”

The exchange comes in the wake of growing concerns from communities along rail corridors used by railroads shipping a growing tide of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

Those worries have been exacerbated by tanker accidents. The most notable is the July 2013 derailment of tankers that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The tankers had been routed through Milwaukee before the accident.

There have been no accidents involving crude in Wisconsin, but on March 5 a BNSF Railway train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., after leaving Wisconsin. Twenty-one tankers derailed. Galena is about 10 miles south of the border.

In Milwaukee, one bridge in question is a 300-foot-long structure, known as a steel stringer bridge, at W. Oregon St. and S. 1st St. The bridge was constructed in 1919, according to, which keeps a database of historic bridges.

Canadian Pacific said on Sept. 1 that it would encase 13 of the bridge’s steel columns with concrete to prevent further corrosion and to extend the life of the columns. The carrier said last week that a protective layer of concrete will be applied late this month.

Since last spring, neighbors have expressed worries about the integrity of the bridge, and since July city officials have sought details on the condition of the bridge.

In addition to the threat to human safety, environmental groups such as Milwaukee Riverkeeper say about three dozen bridges cross rivers and streams in the Milwaukee River basin.

On Sunday, a flotilla of kayaks and canoes paddled at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers to underscore the connection between trains and the city’s waterways.

Bridges must be inspected annually by railroads. But railroads are not required to submit the information to the federal agency. Railroads also are not required to make the information available to the public.

Cummings said the bridge on S. 1st St. has been inspected by a railroad bridge inspector. “We are confident in its ability to safely handle freight and passenger train traffic,” Cummings said.

In her letter, Feinberg said the agency is “re-evaluating” its programs to determine whether it needs to take additional steps.

Common Council President Michael Murphy said he isn’t satisfied by Feinberg’s comments.

“I would liked to have seen a little more teeth in it,” he said.

Murphy said Canadian Pacific should be more transparent, adding that he expects the company to brief the council’s public safety panel soon on the bridge’s condition.

Baldwin and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, also a Democrat, said in an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune last week that oil trains have put “hundreds of communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin at risk for the explosive crashes that come when an oil train derails.”

Nationally, trains carrying crude oil in the United States have jumped from 10,840 carloads in 2009 to 233,698 in 2012 to 493,127 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Canadian Pacific is shipping seven to 11 Bakken crude trains a week through Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, according to the latest data sent to the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management. BNSF is shipping 20 to 30 trainloads along the Mississippi River.

In a federal transportation bill that has passed the Senate but not yet the House, Baldwin and Franken said they added language that would make oil train information available for first responders. It would also give state and local officials access to inspection records of bridges.

Sunday’s paddle protest in Milwaukee was meant to highlight concerns by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Citizens Acting for Rail Safety that the area’s aging bridges were not built to accommodate so much oil.

Cheryl Nenn of Riverkeeper said a rail accident that spilled crude could have long-lasting effects on the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, and Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water.

Complicating a potential oil spill in downtown Milwaukee is wave action from Lake Michigan, known as a seiche effect, where surging water from the lake can push water upstream, she said.

“The Milwaukee River is cleaner today than it has been in decades, and now we face a threat from crude oil,” Nenn said.

Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated

Repost from McClatchyDC

Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated

By Curtis Tate, September 12, 2015

•  McClatchy received reports it asked for in 2014
•  Documents contained data previously revealed
•  Economics of crude by rail have shifted since

After more than a year, McClatchy finally got the oil train reports it had requested from Maryland.

And they were badly out of date.

Last year, McClatchy filed open-records requests in about 30 states for the documents, and was the first news organization to do so in Maryland, in June 2014.

Maryland was poised to release the records in July 2014, when two railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, sued the state Department of the Environment to block the disclosure.

Finally last month, a state judge ruled in the favor of the release, marking the first time a court had affirmed what many other states had already done without getting sued.

The documents McClatchy and other news organizations ultimately received were dated June 2014, not long after the U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring the railroads to notify state officials of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil.

After more than a year, however, the economics of shipping crude by rail had changed substantially.

Amid a slump in oil prices, refineries once receiving multiple trainloads of North American crude oil every day have switched, at least temporarily, to waterborne foreign imports.

The trend is reflected from the East Coast to the West Coast, where long strings of surplus tank cars have been parked on lightly used rail lines, generating rental income for small railroads but also the ire of nearby residents.

The documents released in Maryland show that in June 2014, Norfolk Southern was moving as many as 16 oil trains a week through Cecil County on its way to a refinery in Delaware.

But McClatchy has known that since August 2014, when it received a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Amtrak.

The Delaware News Journal reported that the PBF Refinery in Delaware City, Del., now receives only about 40,000 barrels a day of crude by rail. That’s about 56 loaded tank cars, or half a unit train, nowhere close to the volume of mid-2014.

The June 2014 Maryland documents also show that CSX was moving as many as five oil trains a week on a route from western Maryland through downtown Baltimore toward refineries in Philadelphia.

But that had been clear since at least October 2014, when the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency released its oil train reports showing an identical number of CSX trains crossing from western Pennsylvania into Maryland, then back into southeast Pennsylvania.

CSX told the Baltimore Sun that it had not regularly moved a loaded oil train through Baltimore since the third quarter of 2014. The company had earlier told the newspaper that it moved empty oil trains through the city and state.

Federal regulators never required railroads to report empty oil train movements.

The vast majority of loaded CSX oil trains move to Philadelphia via Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, N.Y., and northern New Jersey, according to records from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Armed with proof of oil shipments through downtown Baltimore, activists say they will press the issue

Repost from the Baltimore Sun

Armed with proof of oil shipments, activists say they will press the issue

By Natalie Sherman, September 10, 2015
An oil tank car
Signs indicate petroleum crude oil on train tank cars. While railroads have long carried hazardous materials through congested urban areas, cities are now scrambling to formulate emergency plans and to train firefighters amid the latest safety threat: a huge increase in crude shipments that critics say has put millions of people living or working near the tracks at heightened risk of derailment, fire and explosion. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

CSX Transportation said Thursday it still moves crude oil by train through Maryland via downtown Baltimore occasionally, but not as many as the five 1 million-gallon trains a week it estimated in documents released this week by the state.

Environmental groups and community activists said they hope the new disclosure about trains carrying the explosive crude though the city will spark public pressure and lead officials to act.

The state released documents on Wednesday in which CSX estimated it moves up to five trains a week, each carrying at least 1 million gallons of the volatile crude oil, through Baltimore City, as well as through eight Maryland counties.

The information, disclosed after CSX and Norfolk Southern lost a court battle to keep it private, is outdated, said Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX. The railroad has not moved trains carrying 1 million gallons of so-called Bakken crude — the volume that triggers federal reporting and disclosure requirements — through the Howard Street Tunnel since the third quarter of 2014, he said.

Trains carrying less than 1 million gallons continue to travel that route “on occasion,” he confirmed. He declined to be more specific about the amounts or frequency. It takes roughly 35 tank cars to carry a million gallons of crude.

“We consider information about the shipment of hazardous material to be security sensitive,” he said, adding that the firm does disclose the information to first responders and emergency officials.

“Safety is CSX’s highest priority,” he said. “We’re sensitive to this. Zero accidents is our goal and we believe we’re acting appropriately.”

The amount of crude oil traveling around the country in rail tankers increased exponentially in recent years with a boom in domestic and Canadian production. While rail shipment is one of the safest modes of transportation, accidents involving the volatile crude oil can be explosive, which has stoked fears about the traffic. A fiery 2013 derailment in a small Quebec town killed 47 and forced 2,000 to evacuate.

“We’ve seen these trains explode and we know that they pose a serious threat to Baltimore residents and business and other people who are just trying to go about their life in Baltimore,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Advocates have estimated that about 165,000 Baltimore residents live within a 1 mile radius of train routes, making them vulnerable to explosions caused in potential derailments.

“This one affects everybody,” said Amy Sens, 38, who lives in Morrell Park and is a pastor at Six:Eight, a church in Hampden. “My hope is that a lot of people will become aware of this and realize that they’re affected personally and takes steps to make this situation safer than it currently is.”

The CSX route through Maryland described in the 2014 documents enters the state from Pennsylvania in Allegany County and travels into Washington County, dipping into West Virginia, through Harpers Ferry and back into Maryland, crossing Frederick County. It catches parts of Carroll and Howard counties, passing through Ellicott City along the same line where a rail defect caused a coal train to derail in 2012, killing two young women trespassing on a rail trestle.

After crossing into Baltimore County in the Patapsco Valley State Park, the line enters Southwest Baltimore, traveling up into the heart of the city, passing two blocks from the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and right by M&T Bank Stadium before entering the Howard Street Tunnel just south of Camden Yards.

The 120-year-old tunnel, which follows Howard Street under downtown, was the scene of a six-day chemical fire after a train derailment in 2001. The line emerges at Mount Royal Station, crosses over the Jones Falls and skirts Remington before turning east in a below-grade cut along 26th Street, where a retaining wall collapsed onto the tracks after heavy rains in 2014.

The line bends through East Baltimore, passing neighborhoods, schools, cemeteries and industrial zones before turning northeast back into Baltimore County and through Harford and Cecil counties roughly parallel to U.S. 40.

CSX stopped shipping through Baltimore because it found a more efficient route to deliver the oil to its client, Doolittle said.

A CSX website shows that its principal crude oil route serving refineries in Philadelphia and New Jersey passes through Ohio, a bit of northern Pennsylvania and mostly New York before turning south.

While the railroad only occasionally moves crude through Maryland now, Doolittle said a new plan submitted to the state estimates it moves between zero and five weekly million-gallon crude trains along the route so it can comply with its requirements as a common carrier.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and other groups said even smaller amounts are cause for concern.

They have been trying to build support for a city ordinance that would impose a temporary ban on expansion of crude oil terminals. The City Council hosted a hearing on the issue this summer.

Brent Bolin, Chesapeake regional director at Clean Water Action, said the newly released documents give new urgency to the issue.

“Now that this information is out, it’s time to go back to the Baltimore City Council and say, ‘OK, great hearing. What do you think about this information?’ That’s our immediate next step,” he said.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she supports the idea of a moratorium, but it’s not clear what the city can do because crude oil shipments cross state lines and are federally regulated.

“I definitely support a moratorium on the expansion of the facilities so that while we’re trying to cope with this problem, we’re not expanding the potential, but I have a lot to learn about this before I have any opinions about how to proceed except that it’s not a safe situation and we have to protect our citizens,” she said.

City Councilman Ed Reisinger, who hosted the hearing, said the city doesn’t want to impose rules against rail shipment that might lead to oil’s being sent through the city on trucks. He has asked CSX for more specific information, he said.

“If it’s one [rail] car I’m concerned, but … the reality is do we want to see one car on the tracks or do we want to see how many trucks driving through the city of Baltimore?” he said. “I just want some accurate information for what we’re really dealing with.”

Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said it would be premature to take a position without a real ordinance on the table.

“Our understanding is that we’re very limited in what we can regulate,” he said. “What we can do is make sure our fire and emergency management folks work well with the railroads and are prepared for any contingency.”

Connor Scott, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said the city has had a close relationship with CSX since the 2001 tunnel fire.

Staff at CSX have Fire Department radios, and the city, through state police, has access to a CSX system that shows the contents of rail shipments 24-7, he said.

The Fire Department and CSX have conducted training sessions on responding to a crude oil explosion.

As oil train burned, firefighters waited 2 hours for critical details

Repost from McClatchyDC

As oil train burned, firefighters waited 2 hours for critical details

By Curtis Tate, August 21, 2015

•  Oil train burned for 2 hours before railroad official arrived
•  Firefighters lacked key details about train and its cargo
•  Incident led railroads to offer more information, training

Contract workers begin cleaning up the site of an oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va., on May 1, 2014.
Contract workers begin cleaning up the site of an oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va., on May 1, 2014. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

Newly released documents show that firefighters responding to an oil train derailment and fire last year in Lynchburg, Va., waited more than two hours for critical details about the train and what was on it.

The Lynchburg Fire Department’s battalion chief, Robert Lipscomb, told investigators that it took multiple calls to get a representative from the correct railroad to come to the scene, according to an interview transcript published Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board. And by the time someone arrived, the massive fire had almost burned out.

The April 30, 2014, derailment of a CSX train released more than 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the James River and led to the evacuation of about 350 people. No one was injured.

Because of Lynchburg and other oil train derailments, railroads, including CSX, have improved their lines of communication with local emergency responders and offered them more training opportunities.

Rob Doolittle, a CSX spokesman, said Friday that safety was the company’s highest priority and that it “looks forward to reviewing the NTSB’s findings and recommendations when its investigation into this incident is complete.”

NTSB investigators interviewed Lipscomb, who led the response to the derailment, the next day. He told them his department probably wouldn’t have changed how it handled the incident if they’d had more information from the start.

“We did it the way we did it because that’s what we were looking at,” he said.

However, he expressed frustration that it took railroad officials more than two hours to arrive.

We really wanted to know what was on that train. Robert Lipscomb, battalion chief, Lynchburg Fire Department

“We really wanted to know what was on that train,” Lipscomb told investigators.

The confusion even included not knowing what railroad to call. Norfolk Southern also operates trains through downtown Lynchburg parallel to the CSX tracks.

Lipscomb said both railroads were notified, and officials from Norfolk Southern arrived within 45 minutes of the derailment. However, they determined quickly that it was not one of the railroad’s trains.

“They did stay on scene to kind of, I guess, be of some assistance, but they weren’t able to help us at all really because it wasn’t their train,” Lipscomb said.

Other issues Lipscomb identified: The paperwork identifying the train’s cargo was in the locomotive, but firefighters didn’t know where to find it. They also couldn’t find the train crew.

Firefighters knew from the red hazardous materials placards on the tank cars that the train was carrying crude oil. But they didn’t know how much was on the train or what kind of oil it was.

Lipscomb said he kept looking at his watch and proposed “taking it to the next level” by calling the state’s deputy secretary of public safety if a CSX representative didn’t arrive by five minutes past 4 p.m., more than two hours since the derailment.

“I’m like, ‘I’ve got to know; we’ve got to have someone here,’” Lipscomb said, “and before my time ran out, he showed up.”