Category Archives: Rail defect

BENICIA HERALD: City Council hears public comments on crude by rail

Repost from the Benicia Herald Online
[Editor: For Tuesday’s comments on Valero Crude By Rail by Marilyn Bardet and Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Steve Young, skip down to the red bullet.  – RS]

Council hears about crude by rail, water infrastructure and EMS costs Tuesday

By Elizabeth Warnimont, July 7, 2016

BeniciaHerald_logoAt its regular meeting Tuesday, Benicia City Council had a busy meeting with lots of activity. First, the Council recognized the Parks and Community Services Department with a proclamation declaring July, 2016 as “Parks Make Life Better Month,” in conjunction with the statewide designation. Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission member Rich Payne accepted the proclamation from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the City Council.

The Council also confirmed Johanna Ely as Benicia’s sixth poet laureate. Ely spoke briefly about the activities and aims of the laureate program and read a selection of poetry including one titled, “Ode to the Library.”

The final item preceding the council’s consent calendar was a presentation by Assistant Public Works Director Christian Di Renzo on advanced metering infrastructure. Di Renzo provided an overview of the systems currently being considered by the city, outlined the benefits of acquiring a new, electronic metering system, and answered questions posed by the council and a member of the public.

Public comment

Marilyn Bardet
Marilyn Bardet

During the public comment period, Marilyn Bardet showed the council photos of both the aftermath of the recent Mosier, Ore. train derailment and explosion as well as some of the Union Pacific track and refuse currently visible in Benicia that she felt were of concern. One photo showed piles of black powder that Bardet referred to as coke dust that has spilled from hopper cars on railroad tracks near Bayshore Road in Benicia, and one showed warped track rail near the trestle towers, among other photos of concern. Bardet pointed out that the discarded railroad ties in one photo presented a fire hazard due to their creosote content.

Bardet suggested that these items be considered for remediation.

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council
Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young also addressed the Council, as a resident, about the June 23 preliminary findings concerning the recent Oregon crude oil train derailment.

The Federal Railroad Administration report is titled, “Preliminary Factual Findings Report, Derailment of Union Pacific’s Unit Crude Oil Train Transporting Bakken Crude Oil for U.S. Oil, Mosier, Oregon.” Young read from the report’s executive summary. A complete copy of the report is available at the city of Benicia website at

The involved, Dot-111 tank cars, modified to 1232 standards, were equipped with full height head shields and metal jackets with insulation. These cars are commonly referred to as jacketed 1232s. During the derailment, a coupler struck one car, mechanically puncturing it. This puncture allowed crude oil to come in contact with an ignition source, leading to a fire that burned for approximately 14 hours.

The four cars involved in the fire were the punctured car and three additional tank cars, two that had their bottom outlet valves sheared off by the derailment and one car with the gasket melted out from under the manway cover.

The Valero proposal, Young pointed out, calls for the use of non-jacketed 1232 cars. These have no full-height head shields and no jackets with insulation. Another concern is the bottom release valves, a common source of ignition in derailment incidents. These valves shear off, causing a leak and then the subsequent fire. The more advanced tank cars have the valve located on top.

Young reminded the Council that Valero is proposing to buy or lease these tank cars. If safety is truly Valero’s first priority, he suggested, then the added expense of choosing safer cars would certainly seem to be worth any added expense. He asked that the Council consider these issues when it addresses the proposal again in September. He added that an even safer car, the Dot-117, will be required by federal law by the year 2020, and suggested that again, in the interest of safety, Valero might consider opting for that model.

The Council approved a resolution to accept a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office regarding the Benicia Police Department hiring of a full time Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Enforcement Team (SONET) officer, who would report to the SONET sergeant. The officer’s salary would be provided by the sheriff’s office. A resolution approving the MOU was approved by unanimous vote.

First responder fee overview
Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon presented the Council with a report on the option for the fire department to begin assessing fees for services provided by its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team. The department would collect insurance coverage information from patients at the point of service and hand them a notice stating that they would be contacting their insurance companies on their behalf.

Chief Lydon emphasized that the department would utilize compassionate billing, which means that the insurance portion of any incurred costs would be considered payment in full, and that fees would only be assessed for services and not for transportation, which is currently provided by an outside ambulance company. He also noted that no patients would be billed directly from the fire department, regardless of their insurance coverage status.

Councilmember Tom Campbell expressed concern over the legality of the compassionate billing procedure and Chief Lydon agreed to investigate that topic further, though he noted that Bay Area cities already following that procedure have not yet encountered problems, to his knowledge.

The presentation was intended to be strictly informational. The fire department desired direction from council as to whether or not to pursue the idea, and council indicated that they should proceed.

PG&E exit fees
Councilmember Alan Schwartzman provided the Council with some information pertaining to a proposal to submit a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) fee, essentially an exit fee, charged by Pacific Gas & Electric to customers who have switched to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) providers such as Marin Clean Energy (MCE).

Schwartzman, an MCE board member as it happens, began by reading from the staff report accompanying the City Council agenda, a complete copy of which is available by visiting the city of Benicia web site under Agendas and Minutes, or by calling the city at 746-4200. Schwartzman’s reading is paraphrased here:

MCE has requested that the city of Benicia submit a letter to the CPUC regarding the PCIA charge increase. The CPUC has consistently denied adequate public input to discuss the fee. Earlier this year, PG&E increased this fee by 95 percent. The proposed letter asks the CPUC to provide a venue for public input. The charge is assessed by PG&E on a per-kilowatt basis to cover power generation costs acquired prior to a customer’s change in service provider.

Schwartzman explained that PG&E procures energy based on anticipated need, so that when customers switch away from PG&E, the company is left with the cost burden of the energy it has already acquired, without corresponding reimbursement from customers.

The CPUC approved the increases at a public meeting, but without allowing CCAs access to the data they would need in order to effectively predict the amount of the fee, information which they would like to be able to pass along to their customers. All CCAs are currently working with the CPUC and Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), in order to inform customers how the PCIA fees are calculated and to remain cost competitive.

MCE is asking the city of Benicia to request that the CPUC allow a workshop for public input in order to fairly deal with the PCIA fee.

A motion to approve the submittal of the letter was approved by unanimous vote.

More information
A complete copy of the meeting agenda is available at the city of Benicia website at or by calling the city at 746-4200. Minutes of the meeting are typically available about two weeks after the date of the meeting. The next City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, July 19 at Council Chambers, City Hall, 250 East L St., beginning at 7 p.m.

Mosier OR after the crash: Sheared screws blamed in train derailment

Repost from Hood River News
[Editor:  A well-written account, lots of detail not found elsewhere.  – RS]

Sheared screws blamed in train derailment

By Neita Cecil, The Dalles Chronicle, June 14, 2016

CHIEF ENGINEER Jason Rea of Union Pacific Railroad’s western region, holds a lag screw like one of several that were sheared off on the track through Mosier, causing the June 3 train derailment.

The Mosier train derailment was caused when an unknown number of large screws, used to provide extra stabilization to rail ties on curves, sheared off — something a railroad official said he’d never seen before in a derailment.

Jason Rea, chief engineer for the western region of Union Pacific Railroad, described at a community meeting Friday in Mosier what had caused the June 3 derailment of 16 oil cars.

The so-called lag screws, which are threaded, are used on curves instead of a straight track spike. And while the lag screws had been severed about two and a half inches below the head of the screw, the top of the screw did not dislodge, which would have been detected by visible inspection, Rea said.

Rather, the sheared screw or screws remained in place.

“I don’t know of any that it has ever happened to,” Rea told the Chronicle after the meeting. “I’ve never experienced this kind of derailment.” He said he’s seen dozens of derailments in his many years with the railroad.

The lag screws were implemented in 1999, he said.

Each rail tie has eight spikes or screws in it. The spikes or screws – four on each end — hold in plates that secure the rail to the tie.

The railroad doesn’t know how many were sheared before the derailment, but some were sheared after a wheel was derailed.

The wheel derailed about 3/10 of a mile east of where the crash actually occurred. Technically, the derailment is where the wheel leaves the rail, and the crash site is called the point of rest.

When the derailment site was inspected, Rea said some of the lags didn’t pop off, but some did.

Rea said the chance that the derailment was the result of sabotage was “very, very, very unlikely.” He said he was confident of that “just because of the way the lag broke. There’s no way somebody could do that, only the train is heavy enough to” do that.

Railroad officials told the audience Friday that the Mosier Community School, which became the command center for the response, would get new carpeting and flooring, and a new floor in the gym. Students were evacuated from the school after the noontime derailment, and the decision was later made to end the school year a week early, so students did not have their final week of school.

In the wake of the derailment, which caused an evacuation of 100 residents and took the city’s sewer treatment plant offline, the railroad is sharply increasing its inspection schedule of the rails through the gorge.

A panel of UP officials who spoke at the community meeting each apologized for the derailment.

Robert Ellis, superintendent of the Portland service unit of the railroad, said it took until about 2 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, to safely put out the fire that erupted from four of the derailed cars. The cars were carrying Bakken crude oil, an unusually volatile oil.
Most of Saturday was spent getting the oil out of the derailed cars and loaded onto trucks. Each car took three to five truckloads of oil. They were able to remove the train that was not derailed, and rerail cars that were not in the immediate point of rest, Ellis said.

It was late Saturday evening by the time they were able to clear cars “from the pile” and move them off the right of way. Early Sunday crews began remediating the soil at the crash site and by mid-morning Sunday they had backfilled the soil and relaid new track.

By late Sunday, they reopened the line.

The community has expressed outrage that the railroad restarted the trains two days before the oil cars were removed from the right of way. Officials with the railroad and other officials who were part of the emergency response have said they made a joint decision to resume traffic because it was safe to do so.

On Monday through Wednesday, crews continued to “transload” oil from the rail cars to tanker trucks. The oil was taken to rail cars in The Dalles, where it will at some point resume its trip to its destination of Tacoma, Wash.

By Wednesday night, all the tank cars were gone, and Thursday and Friday workers continued with remediation and replanting of the Rock Creek Sail Park.

Tim O’Brien, director of hazardous materials for UP, said the backfill work will continue until mid-week this week.

All the parts and pieces needed to rebuild damaged parts of the sewer treatment plant – and 600 feet of pipe leading to and from the sewage plant — have been ordered, O’Brien said, and the rebuilding will begin Tuesday or Wednesday.

The crash happened right on top of a manhole leading to the treatment plant, and oil seeped in through the manhole and “killed” the treatment plant, a city official said earlier. The oil killed the bacteria that fueled the biological process used to treat sewage.

Oil also got to the Columbia River through the treatment plant’s pipes, which dump treated waste water into the river.

Officials are still maintaining booms in the water to capture any oil, although a small oil sheen was only visible for a few days on the river. The railroad continues water and air testing.

O’Brien said that, after enough water was put on the fire to cool it down, it took only 10 gallons of foam to douse the fire. He said six foam trailers will be deployed in July throughout Oregon.

He said the fire had to be cooled down first, because if the tank cars weren’t cool enough, the fire would simply reignite if it was still too hot.

O’Brien said this derailment was the first time that an offensive action was taken to put out an oil car fire.

As for increased inspections, Rea said the new track used the newest, third-generation, lag screws. Crews walked every “lag curve” on the rail line from Hinkle to Portland. There are 71 such curves, which are any bend in the railroad that is a three-degree curve and above.

The railroad has a number of safety devices to test the railroad. A geometry car can test to ensure the rails are their exact 56.5 inches apart, and are at the same level, without any dips on either side.

Visual rail inspections that were previously done two times a week will be done three times a week.

Enhanced rail inspections, which were not done at all before the derailment, will be done three times a week, on “hyrail” vehicles – which can operate either on tracks or on roads or earthen surfaces.

Another vehicle does an ultrasonic test, which sends sonar into the elements of the railroad track and can detect defects.

The Gauge Restraint Measurement System (GRMS) car tests railroad track strength and finds weaknesses. Where that was previously used every 18 months, it will now be used four times a year.

Another device mimics the pressure that a railcar puts on the rail tracks to see how they fare.

Walking inspections of the lag curves in the gorge will be done monthly, where they were not done at all previously.

Chuck Salber, director of risk management for the railroad, is overseeing claims filed by those affected by the derailment. He said residents should see checks from their filed claims in about two weeks. Businesses are more complex, and they can expect a response in two to four weeks, he said.

One woman asked the railroad to consider the needs of residents who do not have the means to pay for a motel room. The woman said she slept in her car for two nights, and was finally put in a motel room that the railroad paid for up front.

She also asked that Red Cross centers be established in the nearest town to an emergency. She said the Red Cross shelter was in The Dalles, when Hood River would have been more convenient.

He said the claim office that was located in Mosier has closed, and now claims can be made at 877-877-2567, option 6.

While rail traffic is only moving at 10 miles per hour through Mosier, it will eventually resume to normal rail speeds through town of about 30 mph. Typical rail speed on a straight-of-way is 55-60 mph.

Wes Lujan, western region vice president of public affairs for UP, said it wasn’t safe to keep rail speeds low, because people get impatient at crossings and try to beat the train, or people try to jump onto slow trains. He said all the people on the panel had seen the bad outcomes of such incidents.

Lujan also spoke to the decision to resume rail traffic even when derailed cars were still lining the tracks.

He said the whole Northwest economy relied on rail traffic, and without it moving, commodities couldn’t get to market, and governments couldn’t operate.

He said the railroad could not refuse to haul oil. He said the railroad was like a parcel service: customers prepare their goods in rail cars that are owned by the customer, and the railroad is obligated to transport the rail cars to the customer’s desired destination.

He said the railroad owns the locomotives, the tracks and the land beneath them.

Rodger Nichols, a reporter for Haystack Broadcasting, asked several questions about whether there was a financial aspect to the decision to resume rail traffic, but Lujan told him repeatedly he could not comment or speculate on it.

He said the railroad will be back in a week for another meeting if need be, or they may just keep office hours at city hall for people to come in with their concerns.

Another man asked if the proposed project to add four miles of double line through Mosier to reduce wait times on the rail line was still going forward. “I think there’s a lot of undercurrent and tension” because of it, he said. “You guys did a great job all around, but the risk is still inherent” with hauling oil trains, and there’s still lots of anxiety.

He said trust was important, and UP “lost it when trains started rolling through immediately.”

Lujan said that was still a matter for internal discussion and it hadn’t been determined if the project would go forward. He said there would be a clear answer a week from Monday.

Broken Rail Caused Oil Train Derailment in Wisconsin

Repost from the New York Times

CP: Broken Rail Caused Oil Train Derailment in Wisconsin

By The Associated Press, November 11, 2015, 9:33 P.M. E.S.T.
Workers tend to the scene of a train derailment in Watertown, Wis., on Nov. 9 after 13 cars of a Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil overturned Sunday. (John Hart/AP)
Workers tend to the scene of a train derailment in Watertown, Wis., on Nov. 9 after 13 cars of a Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil overturned Sunday. (John Hart/AP)

WATERTOWN, Wis. — Canadian Pacific Railway says a broken rail caused an oil train derailment in southeastern Wisconsin last weekend.

The railroad said Wednesday the defect was not visible to the naked eye.

More than a dozen cars of a CP train loaded with crude oil jumped the tracks in Watertown on Sunday afternoon, puncturing one car that spilled hundreds of gallons of its load and caused the evacuation of a neighborhood.

The railroad says it uses rail flaw detector cars that use ultrasonic technology to detect defects the eye cannot see. The technology last passed over the site in late September, and nothing was found.

The derailment happened a day after a BNSF Railway freight train derailed Saturday near Alma in western Wisconsin, spilling ethanol into the Mississippi River.

Buckled tracks: heat caused 2 Montana oil train derailments

Repost from the Billings Gazette
[Editor:  Note the industry terminology: “BNSF attributes the July 16 incident…to ‘thermal misalignment,’ also known as sun kink, which occurs when rail tracks expand when heated and buckle.”  …Will we see more of this with global warming?  – RS]

Heat caused Montana train derailments, BNSF says

By Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Nov 4, 2015
Culbertson derailment
Derailed tanker cars lie off track near Culbertson on July 17. The tank cars were hauling fuel from North Dakota and derailed Thursday in rural northeastern Montana, authorities said. Associated Press

CULBERTSON — Two July train derailments in Eastern Montana, including one that spilled 35,000 gallons of Bakken crude, were caused by tracks that buckled in the heat, according to BNSF Railway.

BNSF attributes the July 16 incident that caused 22 oil tankers to derail east of Culbertson to “thermal misalignment,” also known as sun kink, which occurs when rail tracks expand when heated and buckle.

The company also attributes the same cause to the July 14 train derailment about 10 miles west of Culbertson, said BNSF spokesman Matthew Jones.

The Federal Railroad Administration said Tuesday the agency’s investigation into the derailments is still ongoing.

BNSF reported to the FRA that the two derailments caused $3.2 million in damage, including nearly $2 million in equipment damage and more than $1.2 million in track damage.

In the July 16 incident, a westbound train containing 106 crude oil tankers that had been loaded in Trenton, N.D., derailed about five miles east of Culbertson. Twenty-two tankers derailed, with five cars releasing oil, according to information submitted to the FRA.

BNSF and contractors recovered the spilled oil and removed and replaced about 3,900 cubic yards of contaminated soil, Jones said.

On July 14, nine cars on an eastbound mixed merchandise train derailed west of Culbertson, but the cars remained upright and did not cause a spill.

BNSF inspects tracks and bridges more frequently than required by the FRA, including visual inspections and inspections using rail cars equipped with advanced technology, Jones said.

Meanwhile, a legislative audit released last week highlights weaknesses in Montana’s oversight of rail safety, calling attention to a lack of emergency response resources in northeast Montana.

The report by the Montana Legislative Audit Division said the state’s rail safety inspection program is not adequate and first-responders are not adequately trained and equipped to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials.

Northeast Montana does not have a regional hazmat team, primarily due to a lack of hazmat trained and equipped firefighters and the lack of a full-time, salaried fire department, the report said. The closest hazmat team is in Billings, 300 miles from Culbertson.

When a new oil transloading facility in East Fairview, N.D., is at full capacity, Montana may see as many as 40 oil trains each week, the report said.

Montana’s Public Service Commission, which discussed the audit during a meeting Tuesday, would need statutory authority and resources from the state Legislature to expand its oversight of rail safety, said Eric Sell, a spokesman for the agency. Sell noted that the Federal Railroad Administration has primary oversight of rail safety.

BNSF train derailments that were caused by the tracks occurred at a rate of 0.38 incidents per million train miles last year, Jones said, noting the rate is 50 percent better than 10 years ago.

Another recent train derailment involving Bakken crude near Heimdal, N.D., remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Six oil tankers derailed and four caught fire in May.