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Another round of targeted tank car and rail inspections in New York found 62 defects, including one “critical” safety defect that required immediate corrective action, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday.
The inspections are part of the governor’s efforts to address the safety of crude-by-rail shipments. State and federal teams examined 524 tank cars and about 152 miles of track and 38 switches during the inspections.
Last week, inspection teams from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) inspected tank cars at Canadian Pacific’s Kenwood Yard in Albany, CSX Transportation’s Selkirk Yard in Albany County and Frontier Yard in Buffalo, and the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad’s D&E Yard in Buffalo. They also inspected various CP and CSX mainlines.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced legislation that would help protect local communities that experience dangerous oil tanker cars barreling through their backyards every day by providing an incentive for companies to phase out older, dangerous tanker cars sooner rather than later.
Schumer has long fought to get these tanker cars that carry volatile crude, which are prone to explosion in a derailment, off the rails and out of communities as soon as possible. Schumer explained that the Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act of 2015, which Senator Schumer introduced along with Senators Wyden, Feinstein, and Merkley, would reduce risks to communities near railroad tracks by speeding up the phase-out of older tank cars and encouraging companies to replace them with newer, safer cars.
This legislation would establish a $175 fee on the oldest and most dangerous tank cars used to ship crude oil and would use the revenue from that fee to provide grants to communities for emergency preparedness, first responders, and additional inspectors. In addition, it would make available a tax credit for companies that upgrade their tank cars to the highest required safety standard within three years.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation March 25 that would set strong new safety standards for trains hauling volatile crude oil, to better protect American communities along the tracks.
The Crude-By-Rail Safety Act of 2015 requires the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to draft new regulations to mitigate the volatility of gases in crude oil shipped via tank car and immediately halt the use of older-model tank cars that have been shown to be at high risk for puncturing and catching fire in derailments.
“Every new derailment increases the urgency with which we need to act,” said Sen. Cantwell, ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Communities in Washington state and across the nation see hundreds of these oil tank cars pass through each week. This legislation will help reduce the risk of explosion in accidents, take unsafe tank cars off the tracks, and ensure first responders have the equipment they need. We can’t afford to wait for ten accidents per year, as estimated by the Department of Transportation.”
“Families and communities in Washington state and across the country should be able to feel safe knowing that every precaution is being taken to protect them from oil train disasters,” Sen. Murray said. “This legislation will help make sure the most dangerous tank cars are kept off the tracks and is a strong step forward in reducing the risks of oil train accidents and making sure our communities have the resources they need to be prepared for emergencies if they happen.”
“As more and more volatile crude oil moves through Wisconsin and through our country via rail it is critical that appropriate safety measures are in place to reduce the risk of deadly accidents,” Sen. Baldwin said. “I’m proud to join Sens. Cantwell, Feinstein and Murray in introducing legislation that takes immediate action to phase out the most dangerous tank cars carrying crude oil through our communities and I am hopeful our colleagues in the Senate will join us to prevent future oil train tragedies from occurring as we work to increase safety and efficiency along America’s railways.”
“As more crude oil is moved by train, we’re seeing a surge in derailments and explosions. Until we deploy safer tank cars and stronger safety rules, countless communities across the country face the risk of a devastating accident,” Sen. Feinstein said. “That’s why I’m supporting Senator Cantwell’s bill, which will save lives and property and ensure that railcar investments now underway will lead to significant safety improvements. We can’t wait for the next deadly accident to take the necessary steps to improve rail safety.”
The legislation would:
Require PHMSA standards for volatility of gases in crude oil hauled by rail.
Immediately ban the use of tank cars shown to be unsafe for shipping crude oil. Those models include DOT-111s and unjacketed CPC-1232s.
Require new tank car design standards that include 9/16th inch shells, thermal protection, pressure relief valves and electronically-controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.
Increase fines on railroads that violate hazardous materials laws and establish new fines for railroads and energy companies that don’t comply with safety laws.
Authorize funding for first responder training, equipment and emergency preparedness. Also would authorize funding for increased rail inspections and energy product testing.
Require comprehensive oil spill response plans for trains carrying oil, petroleum and other hazardous products.
Mandate railroads establish a confidential “close-call” reporting system for employees to anonymously report problems.
Require railroads to disclose crude-by-rail movements to State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees along hazmat rail routes.
The legislation follows four fiery derailments involving oil trains since the start of February. No injuries were reported, but a July 2013 derailment in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, resulted in 47 deaths. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates an average of 10 derailments annually over the next 20 years as crude-by-rail shipments grow, costing $4 billion.
Five years ago, railroads hauled almost no crude oil. Now, more than 1.1 million barrels per day – with more expected – move by rail, largely originating in the Midwest. But safety regulations have not kept pace, and thousands of tank cars now in use to haul hazardous materials were not designed to carry the more flammable crude that comes from regions such as the Bakken shale.
A CSX freight train ran off the rails last month in rural Mount Carbon, W.Va. One after another, exploding rail cars sent hellish fireballs hundreds of feet into the clear winter sky. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency, and the fires burned for several days.
The Feb. 16 accident was one of a series of recent fiery derailments highlighting the danger of using freight trains to ship crude oil from wellheads in North Dakota to refineries in congested regions along America’s coastlines. The most recent was last week, when a Burlington Northern Santa Fe oil train with roughly 100 cars derailed, causing at least two cars, each with about 30,000 gallons of crude oil, to explode, burn and leak near the Mississippi River, south of Galena, Ill.
A week after a CSX train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded 30 miles southeast of Charleston, W. Va., on Feb. 16, its mangled, charred tank cars were still being hauled from the crash site. Of the 27 cars that derailed, 19 had been engulfed in flames.
The wreckage burned for almost three days. “It’s amazing no one was killed,” says John Whitt, whose home is one of a handful clustered near the crash site, along the banks of the Kanawha River. Some were within 30 yards of the site. One home was destroyed.
Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.
On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.
The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.
The projection comes from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities. The study completed last July took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with crude derailed in West Virginia, sparked a spectacular fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families.
Video images of a fireball billowing from the wreckage of a derailed train hauling Bakken crude are adding to pressure on federal regulators to act on new safety standards for oil shipments.
While there were no fatalities in the CSX Corp. accident in rural West Virginia on Feb. 16, the footage of flames and smoke rekindles public alarm over the prospect of tank cars rumbling through urban areas, according to a former U.S. Transportation Department official and a railroad consultant.
WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday added railroad tank car improvements to its list of “Most Wanted” safety improvements, reflecting a heightened awareness about problems in transporting crude oil and ethanol by rail.
It was the first time the issue has appeared on the board’s annual list of safety priorities since it issued the first one in 1990. The board also renewed its call for railroads to install Positive Train Control, a collision-avoidance system, by the end of the year.