|Posted on July 20, 2014 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
LAWRENCE, Mass., July 11 (UPI) --A 14-car train derailed Friday morning in Lawrence, Mass., causing no injuries.
Eight cars of the Pan Am Railways freight train came off the track around 11 a.m., Lawrence firefighter Chad Nickerson told the Boston Globe.
The four cars at the front of the train and two locomotives at the back stayed on the tracks.
Deputy Fire Chief John McInnis said no one was injured in the accident and no hazardous materials were spilled.
McInnis said it should take about 24 hours for the train cars to be put back on the track. It caused the Haverhill commuter rail line to be delayed for a short time.
Officials are investigating the cause of the accident.
|Posted on July 20, 2014 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, July 18 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen is proud to announce the opening of its state-of-the-art Education & Training Center. Located at BLET National Division headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, the new facility will host its first class on July 21, 2014 — a workshop for BLET General Chairman.
Construction of and equipment for the Training Center was funded primarily by a grant from the Teamsters Rail Conference. The new technology in the Training Center also gives the BLET the ability to expand training platforms, thanks to Delegates attending the BLET’s 2010 National Convention, who approved a measure to fund the BLET Education & Training Department with an additional $1 per month, per member.
“The Teamsters Rail Conference as well as the Delegates to the 2010 convention deserve our gratitude for their foresight in supporting the Education & Training Department,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “Their actions will help train and educate current and future generations of BLET officers and members, securing the strength and success of our Brotherhood for decades to come.”
President Pierce said the new classroom environment will become fully interactive with unrestricted collaboration capabilities, allowing for the inclusion of offsite instructors and officers using video and Internet-based computer technologies.
“I am proud of the work that has gone into establishing our new Education & Training Center,” President Pierce said. “This is so much more than a brick and mortar training center. We have established one of the most modern classroom environments available, affording our membership access to the best classroom technology that exists today. Although construction efforts were put on hold until the future of the Standard Building was known, the provisions of the sale agreement have BLET leasing back space in the Standard Building for two to three years. We could not wait any longer to create our Training Center and we worked hard to put the majority of the Rail Conference grant money into technology that will go with BLET once we relocate in the Cleveland area, as compared to actual construction costs.”
BLET National Secretary-Treasurer Bill Walpert, who has served as Director of the BLET Education & Training Department for more than 20 years, said: “I believe the new Education & Training Center will help give our members the most comprehensive level of education available in all of organized labor. By 2016, I believe our officers will be the most prepared and best trained in our Brotherhood’s history.”
Jason Wright, Coordinator of the BLET Education & Training Department, said the Department intends to expand its curriculum to include online training.
“Online training will become an invaluable part of our future training programs, providing online modules that members can visit as often as they wish so that they may stay up to date on the latest material,” he said.
Wright also said there are five opportunities for workshops at the new Education & Training Center throughout the remainder of 2014. The five remaining workshops are as follows: General Chairman, July 21-24 (Check out July 25); Local Chairman, August 17-22 (Check out August 23); Secretary-Treasurer, October 13-17 (Check out to be announced); Advanced Local Chairman, November 2-7 (Check out November 8); and
Secretary-Treasurer, December 15-18 (Check out December 19).
“We are looking forward to helping our members get the level of education they need, to have an advantage in the field, and to reflect the strength of this great union,” President Pierce said.
|Posted on July 20, 2014 at 2:15 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, July 16 — Facing a loss is never easy, and how you cope and grieve is very personal. No matter the circumstances, whether it’s a death, an illness, a divorce, or even a child leaving home, there are resources that can help.
BLET members covered by the MetLife Group Term Life portion of the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan (GA-23000) and the NRC/UTU Health and Welfare Plan (GA- 690100) are hereby advised that they are eligible for free Grief Counseling provided by Harris, Rothenberg International (HRI), Inc. Dependents and beneficiaries are also covered for this service at no extra cost. It is valuable, confidential support that can provide the comfort and guidance you need at the most difficult of times.
Simply call a dedicated 24/7 toll-free number, 1-855-609-9989, to speak with a licensed professional counselor experienced in helping people who have suffered a loss. The plan covers up to five confidential counseling sessions per event. Sessions can either take place in-person, because meeting face-to-face may provide a personalized experience if you so desire, or by phone if you prefer. The choice is yours depending upon your preference.
If further assistance is desired, the counselor will help you access services that are appropriate to your situation, preferences, finances and health insurance coverage.
You might call to discuss any situation you perceive as a major loss, including:
• Death of a loved one
• Receiving a serious medical diagnosis
• Losing a pet
More information is also available online. You can also log on to griefcounseling.harrisrothenberg.net/default.aspx (username: MetLife; password: grief) to contact a counselor or access helpful grief-related information and resources.
Additional assistance from research specialists is also available at the same toll-free number at no cost. These specialists can refer services and providers as well as offer additional information that you may find helpful. They can help you:
• Locate local funeral homes and identify monument vendors;
• Locate back-up care for children or older adults;
• Find specific types of support groups, e.g., children who have lost parents, survivors of suicide, dealing with grief, etc…; and
• Find storage facilities, estate sale planners and charities that pick up donations
They can also provide information on important tasks such as notifying the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board, as well as banks and utilities.
For more information, call 1-855-609-9989 or log on to griefcounseling.harrisrothenberg.net/default.aspx
(Username: MetLife Password: grief). You may also download and share this flyer from MetLife.
|Posted on July 13, 2014 at 8:50 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, June 26 — Operation Lifesaver, Inc. has taken the lead in condemning a recent magazine article that glorifies railroad trespassing and train hopping. Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said the BLET supports Operation Lifesaver’s position and also objected to the article.
Published in the June 10 issue of Outside Magazine, the article titled “My Train-Hopping Odyssey Through the American West” chronicles a trip by Ted Conover and his 18-year-old son to illegally hitch rides on railroad freight cars, frequently risking life and limb while ignoring “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs on railroad property.
“The article makes it appear that train hopping is an outdoor adventure activity on the same level as mountain climbing, river rafting, biking or skiing,” wrote Operation Lifesaver President and CEO Joyce C. Rose in a June 23 letter to Outside Magazine editor Lawrence Burke. “We object to the piece from a safety perspective and are very concerned that this article could entice your readers to emulate Conover and son''''s journey.”
BLET President Pierce characterized the railroad trespassers as selfish and not caring about the effect that one slip or trip could have on train crews.
“Railroad workers often suffer emotional and psychological distress for years following fatal train accidents, frequently suffering from nightmares and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” President Pierce said. “Railroading is not a game, and treating it like one for a joy ride is selfish, reprehensible and deplorable.”
According to Operation Lifesaver, deaths in the United States from pedestrians trespassing on train tracks rose more than seven percent in 2013, and jumped 26 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Pedestrian-train injuries rose nearly five percent in 2013 and are up again by nine percent in 2014’s first quarter. More people die each year while trespassing on train tracks than are killed in vehicle-train collisions at highway-rail grade crossings.
President Rose urged the editor of Outside Magazine to instead work toward preventing rail trespasser fatalities.
“Operation Lifesaver, its safety partners and volunteers work every day to prevent collisions, deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along train tracks. Our new public safety education campaign, “See Tracks? Think Train!” (www.seetracksthinktrain.org) was created to address the issue in light of the increase in pedestrian-train incidents. Won’t you help us raise awareness of the danger of illegally being on railroad tracks and property? Together, we can make a difference, and save lives.”
A copy of Operation Lifesaver President Rose’s letter is available here.
|Posted on July 13, 2014 at 8:30 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, June 30 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has sold its landmark Standard Building to Weston, Northeast Ohio’s largest privately held industrial building owner and manager, in a deal that is scheduled to close on Monday, June 30.
Built in 1924 by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Standard Building – originally named the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Cooperative National Bank Building – is an elegant 21-story tower that overlooks the busy downtown intersection of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue. The 400,000 square foot landmark has a grand terra cotta façade and outstanding views of the surrounding city and Lake Erie.
Weston plans to transform the formidable office building into approximately 287 residential one and two bedroom rental suites. (The configuration may vary if office space is introduced on the first four stories.) Development is projected to commence in 12 to 18 months with completion slated for two years out.
“Weston is extremely enthusiastic about this opportunity,” Weston CEO T. J. Asher said regarding the purchase. “We are good at making things viable. The Standard Building is a bit of diversification for us as we enter the residential market from the industrial but it speaks loudly of our commitment to Cleveland and our desire to be a viable part of this community.”
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce congratulated Weston on their purchase of the Standard Building. “The Standard Building is a significant part of the Brotherhood’s heritage, but it has reached a point in time where considerable assets are necessary to repurpose the building,” Pierce said, “and it is very gratifying that the Asher brothers and Weston have committed those assets and will maintain this treasure as a cornerstone of downtown Cleveland life.”
The BLET’s Bylaws require that the National Office be located in the Cleveland area, and this is unaffected by the sale of the Standard Building. One of the stipulations of the sale agreement is that BLET will lease back the space in the Standard Building that the Brotherhood currently occupies for a minimum of two years and a maximum of three years. “The lease back provision gives the Brotherhood the time necessary for the Advisory Board to select a new headquarters location in the Cleveland area, without disrupting our day to day operations,” Pierce said.
The BLET is the oldest labor organization in the United States. Cleveland was selected in 1870 as the union’s headquarters city due to its central location for serving U.S. and Canadian members. From 1910 to 1989, the union’s national office was located in the Engineers Building, across Ontario Street. That building was sold in 1988 to make way for the Marriott Tower.
|Posted on July 13, 2014 at 8:30 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, July 11 — The National Division is saddened to announce the passing of our colleague, staff accountant Denise Sears following a long battle with illness on July 3, 2014. She was 60 years old.
Denise is survived by her beloved son, Joshua Allen, grandson Joshua Allen, Jr., father and stepmother, James and Sylvia Hill, Sr., sisters Terrie Kelly and Deborah (Stephen) Howard and brother James Hill, Jr. She leaves behind many loving cousins and friends. Denise is preceded in death by her mother and stepfather, Janet and Robert Allen and brother, Anthony Hill.
Born in Dayton, Ohio on May 15, 1954, Denise was a long-time resident of Solon, Ohio. She was a 1972 graduate of Roth High School and a 1976 graduate of Central State University. Denise began working in the BLE Compliance Department during September of 2001. In 2006 she moved to the Accounting Department where she took on a diverse group of essential responsibilities, many affording service to and interaction with members and employees, which is what she enjoyed the most. Denise was also an avid basketball fan especially when her son, Joshua was a star center and power forward for the Solon Comets high school team.
“Denise was a dedicated member of our Brotherhood staff for many years,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “She was a great person with a wonderful sense of humor and will be sorely missed. I extend deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones during this difficult time.”
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. at the House of Wheat Funeral Home located at 2107 North Gettysburg Avenue in Dayton, Ohio. Please be aware that National Division employees may be unavailable on the 15th as many of them will be attending these services out of respect for Denise’s years with the BLET.
|Posted on June 6, 2014 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
Expansion of the International Marine Terminal in Portland could begin this summer, after the Maine Department of Transportation bought about 15 acres of land and railroad lines along Commercial Street.
Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot confirmed Monday the department finalized the purchase of about 15 acres from Pan Am Railways.
Talbot did not have information on the purchase price, but said the acreage along West Commercial Street to Cassidy Point will allow the state to link the terminal by rail to the rest of the state and region.
But the state and neighboring landowner Phineas Sprague Jr. have not settled on a price for Sprague's 18 acres, which are central to the terminal expansion. The state has already said it will take the property through eminent domain if necessary.
Sprague, a supporter of the terminal expansion, said he is still looking for a fair deal. "This is a normal process, a well-established process, and it is brutal,” he said.
The terminal is principally used by Icelandic shipper Eimskip for its container business.
Sprague owns Portland Yacht Services and had anticipated building a new boat yard on land where the state wants to build office and storage space, pier fill-ins and rail lines to accommodate rail traffic for containers. The $5 million expansion will be funded by $100 million of highway bonds approved by voters in November 2013.
Talbot said the rail line work could be sent out to bid by the end of the this month.
Sprague said he has an agreement with Pan Am to buy about five acres of land bisected by the railroad tracks that were sold to the state. He plans to open the boat yard there, and hopes to have permits in place to begin construction in December.
"It is OK. It is process I understand and I am going to do the best I can,” Sprague said about the expansion and changes to his plans.
Patrick Arnold, director of operations and business development for the Maine Port Authority, which oversees the terminal, said Tuesday the container traffic continues to grow.
Projections for 5,000 containers to pass through the terminal in the first year proved accurate, and Arnold said last spring he was hoping for 6,000 in the second year of Eimskip business.
He anticipates gradual growth at an expanded terminal, as state and regional companies engaged in exports discover the rail-to-terminal link.
"If you really want it to work and you want to get a good return on investment on tax dollars, you have to give it time to work, and you have to put it into the right things," Arnold said.
|Posted on June 6, 2014 at 12:40 AM||comments (0)|
PORTSMOUTH — The City Council unanimously voted Monday night to direct the city's legal department to file an appeal of the Newington Planning Board's decision to approve the expansion of the Sea-3 propane terminal.
Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine made the motion for City Attorney Bob Sullivan to take “any and all actions necessary and appropriate to appeal the decision” made by the Newington Planning Board two weeks ago.
Numerous area officials and residents have raised concerns about the condition of the tracks owned and operated by Pan Am Railways that would carry a significant increase in propane rail cars.
The unanimous vote came after the City Council met with Sullivan in executive session for more than an hour to discuss the options Portsmouth city officials had concerning Newington's decision.
Sullivan said in open session during Monday night's meeting in City Hall that he talked to councilors so they could understand “the pros and cons of various options.”
Splaine said that he was confident in the legal department's ability concerning the filing of the appeal.
There was no other public discussion about what motivated the council to make its decision after a few councilors raised concerns the last time the panel discussed the issue.
About 30 city residents who showed up to hear the council's decision erupted into applause after the unanimous vote was concluded.
The vote followed comments by a series of speakers who implored the City Council to file the appeal.
Portsmouth resident Richard DiPentima, who has led much of the opposition among residents in the city against the proposed expansion of Sea-3, asked councilors to “reach down into your heart, reach down into your conscience,” before making the decision.
He noted that Newington made its decision based only on the safety of the site, and not concerns raised by area residents and officials about the safety of Pan Am's railroad tracks.
“That leaves it up to Portsmouth to defend its own interest,” DiPentima said. “Are we going to let a threat to our community go unchallenged?”
His wife, Catherine DiPentima, also urged the council to appeal what she called “the reckless decision of the Newington Planning Board.”
She noted that propane is particularly dangerous because it is an “unodorized gas” that first responders could have difficulty detecting.
“You have a particular special responsibility to protect our irreplaceable waterfront,” she said.
Sullivan said after a previous meeting that the city has never filed an appeal of a decision made by a board in a neighboring town.
In its filing with the town of Newington, Sea-3 stated that the facility will operate around the clock and substantially increase the number of rail cars carrying propane on Seacoast train tracks once the expansion is completed.
Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano has promised to upgrade the rail line from Class 1 to Class 2, which would allow its trains to travel as fast as 25 mph. Scarano has said Pan Am intends to run the trains at 10 mph, but that might not always be the case.
City Manager John Bohenko stated in a memo to the council that Scarano is available to meet with the council on Monday, July 14.
Catherine DiPentima also credited City Councilor Stefany Shaheen with raising the idea of creating quiet zones in Portsmouth at city rail crossings.
Peter Britz, the city's environmental planner and sustainability coordinator, has said the work needed to try to win approval of the Federal Rail Administration would be “quite extensive.”
But Britz also pointed out in a memo to Bohenko that “taking even some of the steps required in the process is likely to further rail safety.”
Britz said creating quiet zones — which are typically at least a half-mile long — will allow locomotive engineers not to sound the train's horns as they travel through a city or town.
“In order to establish a quiet zone, the key provision is that the (rail) crossing must have adequate supplemental safety devices installed,” Britz said in the memo. “At a minimum, the supplement safety devices must include gates and flashing lights.”
|Posted on May 23, 2014 at 8:50 AM||comments (0)|
A stubborn length of rail along the Downeaster line in Saco delayed a couple hundred train passengers Thursday afternoon and sent crews scrambling to fix the problem before service resumed Friday morning.
Pan Am Railways maintenance crews were doing scheduled rail work in Saco but had more difficulty than expected removing the rail at the crossing with Main Street, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster service.
A photo and caption posted on the TrainRiders/Northeast Facebook page showed workers in orange vests and white hardhats at the intersection, which connects Biddeford and Saco and is on a bridge above the Saco River.
Working with sledgehammers and power equipment, workers struggled to remove concrete sections between the rails that allow cars to pass over them safely.
A midday train was canceled because of the problem. Passengers on runs leaving Boston at 5 and 5:40 p.m. bound for Brunswick, the line’s northern end, had to be bused from Wells to their final destinations.
For southbound travelers who encountered the delays, bus service was provided from Old Orchard Beach to Wells, where another train was waiting to take passengers on toward Boston.
The problem with the rail caused delays for motorists as well.
Quinn said that the rail was finally removed about 7 p.m., and crews were scheduled to work through the evening until the replacement was completed.
Quinn, speaking about 11 p.m., said crews were optimistic about completing the work on time.
“No one’s called to say we’re not going to get this done,” she said.
|Posted on May 1, 2014 at 1:25 PM||comments (0)|
LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - Multiple CSX train cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire Wednesday along the James River, with three tankers ending up in the water and leaking some of their contents, becoming the most recent crash involving oil trains that has safety experts pushing for better oversight.
Nearby buildings were evacuated for a time in downtown Lynchburg, but there were no injuries, authorities said. CSX said the train was on its way from Chicago to an unspecified destination when most of the cars on the train were knocked off the tracks.
Online photos and videos showed large flames and thick, black smoke right after the crash. The fire burned itself out, but authorities were keeping people out of the area.
Nicole Gibs, 32, a server at the Depot Grille just across the street from the tracks, said she was waiting on a table when she heard a train that sounded louder than usual. She saw several train cars wobbling, and then one fell over, sparking a fire immediately. Several other cars also toppled "like Tyco trains," she said.
The manager yelled: "Evacuate!" and the restaurant immediately began emptying, with some people in wheelchairs being carried down steps as the fire raged, filling the air with black smoke. The people from the restaurant moved a block away, then two.
"You could feel the heat like you were standing by a campfire," Gibs said. "It was hot."
Concern about the safety of oil trains was heightened last July when a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, near the Maine border. Forty-seven people died and 30 buildings were incinerated. Canadian investigators said the combustibility of the 1.3 million gallons of light, sweet Bakken crude released in Lac-Megantic was comparable to gasoline.
"This is another national wake-up call," Jim Hall, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman, said of the Lynchburg crash. "We have these oil trains moving all across the United States through communities and the growth and distribution of this has all occurred, unfortunately, while the federal regulators have been asleep."
"This is just an area in which the federal rulemaking process is too slow to protect the American people," he said.
There have been eight significant oil train accidents in the U.S. and Canada in the past year involving trains hauling crude oil, including several that resulted in spectacular fires, according to the safety board. Also Wednesday, two locomotives and three freight cars of a CSX train derailed near the East Carolina University campus in North Carolina and leaked a chemical for fertilizer. Environmental officials said it posed little danger.
Lynchburg city manager Kimball Payne said about 50,000 gallons of oil were missing from the tankers, but fire officials were unsure how much had burned up and how much had spilled into the water. Those estimates are based on thermal imaging done of the three tankers that were partially in river. Each car holds 30,000 gallons of oil, Payne said.
City spokeswoman JoAnn Martin said the derailment did not affect the water supply for Lynchburg's 77,000 residents because the water is only drawn from the James in times of drought.
Still, drinking water was the first concern for Lynchburg resident Mark Lindy, a network engineer who came with his son, Zach, to look at the accident scene. He said he planned to buy a week's worth of water for his family just to be safe.
"I'm not drinking tap water, that's for sure," he said.
Booms have been set up and have appeared to contain the spill, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said. The agency said it will oversee the oil cleanup and assess the river for any damage.
CSX said it is "responding fully, with emergency response personnel, safety and environmental experts, community support teams and other resources." Martin said CSX cleanup crews were expected to be on the scene by midnight and anticipated being able to finish their work by the close of business Thursday.
The NTSB said it is sending investigators, as is the Federal Railroad Administration.
Grady Cothen, a former Federal Railroad Administration official, said given the recent wet weather in Virginia and the accident's location near a river, it is possible that soft subsoil may have weakened the track.
Railroads "try to catch that before it gets out of hand," but aren't always successful, he said.
As for oil-train safety problems, in one of her last acts before leaving office last week, outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman warned President Barack Obama's administration that it needs to take steps immediately to protect the public from potentially catastrophic accidents even if it means using emergency authority.
The safety board has long recommended that the Department of Transportation toughen its design standard for the kind of rail tank cars used to transport crude oil and ethanol. The cars are too easily punctured or ruptured, even in low-speed accidents. Their flammable contents are then spilled, fouling the environment and often igniting.
"We are very clear that this issue needs to be acted on very quickly," Hersman told reporters at the conclusion of a two-day forum on the safety of transporting oil and ethanol by rail.
Glen Besa, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, reiterated those concerns.
"This accident is a potent reminder of the dangers that come with our dependence on dirty fuels and reinforces the need for better safety measures and increased emergency preparedness," Besa said in a statement.
In 2011, the oil, ethanol and railroad industries agreed to toughen standards for rail cars known as DOT-111s, which are the kind of tank cars used to transport most flammable liquids. However, since then, there have been several accidents in which cars built to the new standards ruptured. NTSB officials have said the voluntary standards don't go far enough.
It's most likely the tank cars involved in the Lynchburg accident were older DOT-111s or new "enhanced" DOT-111s because that is what is primarily being used to transport crude oil, said Bob Chipkevich, a former head of NTSB rail accidents investigations.
|Posted on May 1, 2014 at 1:20 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, April 29 — On April 30, BLET members are encouraged to participate in the Teamster Fast Track Day of Action. As background, the fair trade movement has been successful thus far in delaying a vote on Fast Track legislation, which would allow potentially harmful "Free Trade" agreements to sail through Congress and ship American jobs overseas.
While a vote doesn’t seem likely any time before the midterm elections, the Teamsters are continuing to keep the pressure on by reminding Congress that Fast Track is the wrong track. To that end, April 30 is a Teamster Fast Track Day of Action. All active and retired BLET members, the BLET Auxiliary, their families and friends are encouraged to call the Teamster Fast Track Hotline at (888) 979-9806 and tell your Representative and Senator to oppose Fast Track.
Some talking points are as follows:
1. Fast Track steals Congress’s constitutional authority to review and amend trade agreements that are crafted in secret by corporate lobbyists.
2. Fast Track forces Congress to vote on all trade deals with almost no time for review, which lets Wall Sleep anti-worker provisions into the fine print.
3. Fast Track is a one-way trip to trade deals worse than NAFTA, especially with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated in secret by corporate lobbyists — even as we speak.
4. Fast Track makes it easier and faster for Wall Street and corporations to ship American and Teamster jobs overseas.
Again, remember to call your member of Congress on May 30 at (888) 979-9806 and tell them to vote no on Fast Track legislation.
"We have to hold our members of Congress accountable on this issue," BLET National President Dennis Pierce said. "Your help in the fight against Fast Track is greatly appreciated."
|Posted on May 1, 2014 at 1:20 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, April 23 — As part of an ongoing effort to secure a law mandating a minimum of two crew members in the cab of all locomotives, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD) have provided their State Legislative Boards with model legislation to secure minimum crew size laws on the state level.
The state-lobbying campaign was developed jointly by the two Unions.
“Significant research and work has gone into developing language that both minimizes the potential for a federal preemption challenge and maximizes the likelihood that the legislation will survive any such challenge,” wrote BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce and SMART–TD President John Previsich in a cover letter introducing the model legislation to BLET and SMART local officers. “Therefore, when proposing legislation on this subject it is imperative that you do not deviate from the model.”
Among other items, the legislation stipulates that any person who willfully violates the two-person crew law would be subject to financial penalties.
Crew size has become a hot button issue following the 2013 oil train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. While an official cause has not been determined, the train in question was operated by a single employee.
“We urge BLET and SMART Transportation Division officers to work with their counterparts in moving legislation forward on this issue of paramount importance to the members we represent,” President Pierce and President Previsich wrote.
On the national level, the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 3040) is currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. Representatives Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the legislation on August 2, 2013, in the aftermath of the Lac-Megantic tragedy, and the bill currently has 70 co-sponsors.
H.R. 3040 would require that “no freight train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight may be operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 individuals, one of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a locomotive engineer pursuant to section 20135, and the other of whom is certified under regulations promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a conductor pursuant to section 20163.”
|Posted on April 20, 2014 at 10:30 AM||comments (0)|
PORTSMOUTH — Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine believes the Newington Planning Board will ultimately approve the request by Sea-3 to expand its propane terminal, resulting in more rail cars carrying propane on Seacoast tracks.
"They're about to say yes," Splaine said Wednesday. He has attended multiple Newington Planning Board meetings as it has reviewed the expansion request. "I got that feeling from the board meeting the other day. They don't want to consider the scope of the rail line; they're considering it on the land use for Sea-3 only."
The Sea-3 propane terminal has proposed an expansion that would allow it to receive domestic propane, which is substantially less expensive than paying for propane from overseas. In its filing with the town of Newington, Sea-3 states that if the expansion is approved, the facility will operate 24/7 and substantially increase the number of rail cars carrying propane on Seacoast train tracks.
Numerous municipal leaders and area residents oppose the proposed expansion, primarily because they worry about the condition of the Pan Am Railways' tracks, which will carry the rail cars.
Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano has promised that if the Sea-3 project is approved, Pan Am will upgrade the rail line from Class 1 to Class 2, which will allow its trains to travel as fast as 25 mph. Scarano has said Pan Am intends to run the trains at 10 mph, but that might not always be the case.
Portsmouth attorney Christopher Cole, who represents several city residents, concurred Thursday with Splaine's feelings.
"I get the sense the board feels like it's heard enough from the applicant and to the extent there are concerns about the logistical issues, their hands are tied and they'll probably end up approving it," Cole said.
Cole has pushed for the Newington Planning Board to order Sea-3 to pay for "a comprehensive all-hazards assessment," noting in a letter he sent to the board, Sea-3's proposal calls for a "profound intensification of freight train traffic hauling LPG (liquefied petroleum gas, or propane) from Rockingham Junction in Newfields to Newington, running directly through downtown Portsmouth and a number of residential communities." Cole said Thursday he believes the board could have asked for such a study, "even if it didn't impact approval or disapproval."
The board has refused to do so, saying it doesn't have authority to compel Sea-3 to do anything involving railroad operations. Describing the situation as a "conundrum," Cole said the board "rightly designated this as a project or development of regional significance and then could do nothing about the regional ramifications." He said that put the board in "a very, very difficult position."
He said he has also been frustrated by Pan Am's refusal to commit to operating its trains at 10 mph, as it has been asked to do by numerous residents and municipal officials.
"Those modest assurances would have gone a long way," Cole said. "... They've failed to see how earnest and concerned these folks are. These folks are not NIMBYs, it's already in their back yards. They just want to know what life is going to be like in the new era."
The Portsmouth City Council instructed Mayor Bob Lister to write a letter to the Newington Planning Board last week, stating the city's opposition to the expansion, which Lister has since done.
The state's congressional delegation sent a letter last week to federal officials seeking a "comprehensive assessment of the regional safety and security effects of an expansion of LPG rail shipments" on the Seacoast. "We believe it is important that the federal government provide the information and analysis necessary for community officials and residents to fully understand the potential impacts of increased LPG shipments along the rail line," the delegation wrote in the letter.
The City Council also sent a letter to the Pease Development Authority asking it to seriously consider a proposal by a city resident to run a new rail line through Pease International Tradeport to avoid running the propane rail cars through the downtown. PDA Executive Director David Mullen has said the idea is not economically feasible. No one who supports it has been able to point to a specific funding source nor a cost estimate for the project.
Mullen said he did receive the letter from Lister and will likely discuss it with the authority's board of directors at an upcoming meeting.
|Posted on April 20, 2014 at 10:30 AM||comments (0)|
Railroads carried 4.2 million barrels of crude oil — enough to fill up 267 Olympic-size swimming pools — through Maine last year, up from 25,000 barrels in 2011 and down from 5.2 million barrels in 2012.
The 2013 amount does not include the months of April to August when Pan Am Railways temporarily stopped reporting how much crude oil it shipped into Maine and paying into the state’s 3-cent-per-barrel oil spill cleanup fund, according to Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessamine Logan.
At the time, the company told the Bangor Daily News that state law did not specifically require them to do so. The state Legislature revised the statute effective last October.
After several fiery train explosions involving crude from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota, federal regulators issued a Jan. 2 warning that the crude may be more flammable than other varieties. A federal “Bakken Blitz” investigation has revealed that in eleven out of 18 random samples, Bakken crude was misclassified as a less volatile variety.
Three railroads — Pan Am Railways, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, and Eastern Maine Railroad — have carried Bakken crude oil through Maine to an Irving Oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick.
The MMA Railway line enters Maine at Jackman and then traverses across central Maine to Mattawamkeag. The now-bankrupt company, whose assets are in the final steps of being purchased by a New York-based investment firm, stopped carrying crude oil last August.
A Pan Am line enters Maine at South Berwick and carries crude through towns near Interstate 95, including Portland and Bangor, before heading to Mattawamkeag.
There, the Irving Oil subsidiary Eastern Maine Railroad transports the crude oil from Mattawamkeag to Vanceboro, to the refinery. Eastern Maine Railroad does not pay into the cleanup fund because state law only affects carriers bringing oil into Maine, according to Logan.
In Maine, crude oil shipments by rail have dropped off since last fall, but industry experts say dynamic global oil prices could quickly change that.
North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms has estimated that up to 90 percent of the state’s crude will be transported by rail in 2014.
Following growing scrutiny of the rupture-prone DOT-111 tank cars involved in recent derailments, Irving Oil announced in February that by April 30, it will voluntarily retrofit its crude oil fleet to meet higher standards recommended by the Association of American Railroads for tank cars built after 2011.
Even stricter federal standards for the tank cars could be released by the end of 2014, said Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, at a Feb. 26 congressional hearing.
Last year, U.S. railroads spilled more crude oil — 1.15 million gallons — than in the last 38 years combined, according to a McClatchy news service analysis of federal data that does not include the 1.6 million gallons spilled in Lac-Megantic.
The Association of American Railroads states that through 2010, 99.9977 percent of rail shipments of hazardous material reached their destination without a release caused by a train accident.
In Maine, railroads have spilled more than 200 gallons of hazardous materials like flammable gas oil and sulfuric acid since 2003, according to a review of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data. This represents a large decrease from the 120,000 gallons of hazardous materials like fuel oil and sulfuric acid reported spilled between 1976 to 1999.
Approximately one gallon of crude oil spilled in March 2013, when 13 tank cars operated by Pan Am Railways derailed near the Penobscot River in Mattawamkeag, according to a report filed to the National Response Center. Each car in the 96-car-unit train was carrying 31,000 gallons of crude.
|Posted on April 20, 2014 at 10:25 AM||comments (0)|
BOSTON — The Patrick administration has awarded seven grants totaling $2.5 million for industrial rail projects as part of the 2014 Industrial Rail Access Program, including money for Fitchburg and Palmer works.
Omnova Solutions is receiving $500,000 for the 123 Industrial Park Rail Siding Phase II rehabilitation on Pan Am Southern in Fitchburg.
New England Central Railroad is receiving $499,800 for the industrial park freight capacity expansion project in Palmer.
The money for the seven projects, announced April 14, is being matched by more than $1.9 million in private-sector funds for a total $4.5 million investment in freight rail improvements in the second year of the IRAP program.
The Industrial Rail Access Program, created as part of the 2012 Transportation Bond Bill, provides grants to railroads, rail shippers and municipalities providing public benefits through improved use of the rail transportation network or enhancing economic growth through rail access.
"The Patrick administration has made better access to freight rail service a priority," said state Transportation Secretary and CEO Richard A. Davey. "The carefully selected projects are designed to work with regional and local transportation plans for the benefit of each community and area."
"Improving access to freight rail creates opportunities for companies to do business more efficiently and expand economic opportunity," said Greg Bialecki, secretary of Housing and Economic Development. "This targeted grant program represents a solid investment and smart public-private partnership."
"When we invest in rail to better move people and goods, the bottom line is that we are creating jobs and improving opportunity for people across the commonwealth," said Bevery Scott, state DOT rail transit director and MBTA general manager. "These grants also boost a freight rail industry that has a positive impact on our environment."
|Posted on March 23, 2014 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
A New York investment firm’s purchase of the bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway has been delayed, as Canadian regulators say they don’t have all the paperwork needed before they can approve the deal.
The sale of the railroad, which was responsible for last summer’s deadly train derailment disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, was expected to close by March 31, according to the asset purchase agreement signed by the buyer, Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group. RAH is doing business as the Central Maine and Quebec Railway, or CMQR.
However, the parties will not meet that deadline because the Canadian Transportation Agency and Transport Canada have yet to approve the transaction, according to Robert Keach, who has overseen MM&A’s operations during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. The delay could be for as long as two months, but that depends on the speed of the regulatory process in Canada.
Jacqueline Bannister, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Transportation Agency, an independent, quasi-judicial body that regulates the country’s transportation system, said Canadian regulators are not to blame for the delay.
As of Wednesday, the Canadian agency had not received an application from CMQR for a certificate of fitness, which is required in Canada to operate a railroad, Bannister sai din an email to the Portland Press Herald.
“If and when CMQR submits an application for a certificate of fitness to operate a railway under federal jurisdiction, the agency will review the submission and issue a decision, as it does for all such applications,” she wrote.
Keach is not worried by the delay.
“The delay is considered routine, and, in fact, the contingency for such a delay was built into the asset purchase agreement,” Keach wrote in an email.
Keach said CMQR had advocated for the March 31 deadline because MM&A’s insurance was scheduled to expire that day and there were concerns that MM&A would run out of working capital to keep the railroad running. Keach on Tuesday said those concerns have been addressed.
“All relevant insurance has been extended to June 1, and the current financing is sufficient to cover the anticipated delay. I do not expect any impact on operations from the delay, and we expect prompt action by the regulatory authorities,” Keach wrote.
MM&A filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 7, a month after one of its oil-carrying trains rolled driverless down a slight incline, derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and destroying much of the town’s downtown area.
Railroad Acquisition Holdings won a bankruptcy auction in January to acquire MM&A’s assets. It plans to continue operating the railroad, which connects Montreal with Bangor, Millinocket and Searsport, under the CMQR name.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board approved the transaction on March 13 and, because of the time constraints, agreed to exempt CMQR from a requirement to provide a 60-day notice to MM&A employees of an impending sale.
John Giles, the railroad executive who led Fortress’ efforts to acquire the MM&A and will become CEO of the new railroad once the sale is complete, did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
|Posted on March 23, 2014 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
Municipal leaders and rail advocates offered ideas Wednesday night for extending passenger train service south to New York City and north to Augusta, Auburn, Bangor and Montreal.
But the existing Downeaster service between Brunswick and Boston must be improved before any expansion will be possible, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which runs the service.
“It is a trunk of a tree,” she said of the Brunswick-Boston route. “If we have a strong tree, that supports limbs and branches.”
The issue was raised during a public hearing on the 20-year plan for Amtrak’s rail service. The planning study, funded largely from a $600,000 grant from the Federal Rail Administration, is required by the agency to justify requests for capital funding for service improvements.
Although it received the funding in 2011, the rail authority held off on the study until service was established between Portland and Brunswick. That service began in late 2012. The study is expected to be completed in June.
At Wednesday’s hearing at Portland City Hall, attended by about two dozen people, a range of ideas were raised for improving or extending passenger train service in Maine.
At times, advocates for extending service to Auburn and Lewiston appeared to be competing with those who want to bring the service to Augusta.
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte noted that the Lewiston-Auburn area is the second-most densely populated area in Maine, and that half of the households in downtown Lewiston don’t have cars.
“They would love the chance to have mobility,” he said.
Richard Rudolph, representing the Maine Rail Group, advocated for extending passenger service to the east side of Augusta, noting that it would be a relatively short trip from Brunswick on an abandoned rail line the state already owns.
“It is our belief that this is the next logical step,” he said.
TrainRiders/Northeast, the citizens group that led the petition drive nearly 25 years ago that led to the start of the Downeaster service, has long advocated for extending the service north. It is now also lobbying to extend passenger service to New York City through Worcester, Mass., instead of Boston.
The rail authority’s board of directors voted in January to study the idea, which is also popular in Worcester. Quinn said the route is worth pursuing because the biggest draw for the service now is Boston, which is the departure point or destination point for 86 percent of all Downeaster passengers.
“Connecting to a large population is important,” she said.
But before the service is extended, Quinn said, it is critical to improve the speed and frequency of the existing service.
Rather than increase the trains’ top speed of 79 mph, she said, the trip could be shortened by improving sections of track where the speed limit is now 60 mph.
It now takes two hours and 30 minutes for a Downeaster train to travel between Boston and Portland, while stopping at eight stations along the way. A bus or car can usually make the trip in less than two hours.
The rail authority could add a daily run between Portland and Boston with its current train equipment, Quinn said.
The service now offers five round trips daily between Portland and Boston, leaving long gaps between trains that make the service inconvenient for many people, she said.
Quinn said the authority is looking at the possibility of adding a trip without having to acquire additional equipment.
While the train station in Portland is favorably situated near Interstate 295 and the Concord Coach Lines station, Quinn said, it is removed from Portland’s downtown, creating a barrier for tourists and residents. She said improved public transportation is needed between the station and downtown.
|Posted on March 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM||comments (0)|
Every day, as many as 10 oil trains a day leave North Dakota and six to eight travel through Minnesota.
They pass through places like Perham, a town of 3,000 about 65 miles southeast of the Fargo-Moorhead area, in the heart of lakes country.
Around the clock, semitrailers rumble across the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline railroad tracks to and from the factories. Last year, trains hit trucks crossing the tracks three times. Trains have derailed four times in Perham since 1992, according to federal records, and there have been 18 rail-crossing accidents. In the most recent derailment, in 2003, seven cars left the tracks and plowed into a candy factory.
In 2011, railroads hauled 66,000 carloads of crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Last year, they carried 400,000 carloads. With so much crude moving over the rails, federal officials are concerned. That’s prompting government agencies and the railroads to consider more efforts to ensure safety, including safer tank cars and more rail inspectors. There’s also a push to improve safety at rail crossings.
Trains don’t have to slow down going through Perham or most Minnesota cities and towns. Perham mayor Tim Meehl, a 19-year veteran of the volunteer fire department, worries what could happen if an oil train traveling 50 mph hits a loaded truck and derails — especially because all of the city’s emergency operations are located along the tracks.
“Well if it happened right out there, this place would probably fry,” he said. “All of our vehicles would be gone. Yeah, it’s scary, but life goes on.”
“I mean, just talking about this oil, you know, you laugh about it,” Meehl said. “But I guess you just pray it doesn’t happen here.”
Safety improving, but incidents raise concerns
Nationally, there are fewer train derailments than 10 or 20 years ago, according to federal statistics, which show a steady improvement in rail safety.
Last year, the BNSF railroad recorded the fewest mainline derailments in its history, company officials say. BNSF will invest a record $5 billion in infrastructure this year, including $900 million along its northern corridor where much of the oil travels.
Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for the railroad, said all major causes of derailment decreased in the past 10 years. Derailments caused by equipment failure are down 54 percent, derailments caused by human error declined 42 percent and there were 34 percent fewer derailments caused by track defects.
But high-profile accidents with trains hauling North Dakota crude are raising new concerns. Federal regulators warn that Bakken crude is more volatile than other crude oils. A recent Canadian investigation compared the light crude oil to unleaded gasoline.
The National Transportation Safety Board calls the rail cars now in use an “unacceptable public risk.” The federal transportation department is working on new safety standards for oil tank cars that haven’t been improved in decades.
University of North Dakota mechanical engineering professor George Bibel, who recently wrote a book on the forensics of train wrecks, said adopting new safety standards is a complex process that comes down to a cost benefit-analysis in which experts weigh the cost of accidents against the cost of safety.
“They’ll look at everything. They’ll look at environmental damage, equipment damage, and human life and injury and put prices on injuries and fatalities,” Bibel said. “We kill about 34,000 people a year in cars. You could reduce that by 99 percent if we all drive $2 million safety-enhanced cars. So it’s always that kind of trade-off.”
There are currently 92,000 tank cars approved for hauling hazardous flammable liquids, said Minnesota State University Moorhead Associate Professor Paul Sando, who is studying the logistics of rail traffic.
“If they go to the latest DOT standards for safety, immediately 78,000 of those would be obsolete, three-quarters of the fleet obsolete over night,” Sando said. “Nobody is willing to do that because it would bring everything to a screeching halt.”
Even before new regulations are released, orders for new safer tank cars are overwhelming manufacturers. Industry experts say factories are two years behind on orders.
BNSF recently took the unusual step of announcing it would order 5,000 of the new safer tank cars. As railroads typically don’t own the cars they pull, it’s a sign the railroad is very concerned about safety and liability, Sando said.
Relying on the railroads
The state has one rail inspector who works with two federal inspectors in Minnesota. A recent report found federal inspectors check only about 1 percent of regulated rail activity each year. Bill Gardner, director of the office of freight and commercial vehicle operations for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said the government largely depends on railroads to keep the tracks safe.
“Certainly they have the primary responsibility and they are doing most of the inspections and they say that they’re doing more than what’s actually required particularly on these key oil train routes,” he said.
BNSF officials say crude oil routes are inspected four times a week, twice as often as federal regulations require.
Railroad officials declined a request for an interview about inspections, but in an email said BNSF has 600 inspectors working on its rail system. The railroad is increasing its use of technology, including ultrasonic scans to look for flaws inside steel rails, rail cars equipped with lasers and computers to check track alignment and wear and ground penetrating radar to identify weak spots in soil under the tracks.
MnDOT also is taking a new look at rail crossing safety. Gardner said on crude oil routes, most Twin Cities metro area crossings already have signals and stop arms. But across the state there are 112 crossings on oil routes that have only stop signs.
He said MnDOT is developing new risk criteria to identify the most dangerous crossings and consider upgrading or closing them. Among the factors it might consider are whether schools, nursing homes or populated areas are near crossings and how many trucks cross the tracks.
“We would certainly want to do this sooner than later and try do it as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “I can’t say how quickly we could complete this, but certainly it would be a priority.”
In it for the long haul?
The question for policy makers deciding to invest more money in rail safety is this: How long will railroads be the pipeline moving Bakken crude to refineries?
Some investors are betting on the long haul. They include Neal Amondson, who co-founded Northstar Transloading two years ago with Minneapolis-based Hempel Companies.
Later this year they plan to open the largest oil train loading facility in North Dakota. Amondson said the $100 million operation will load four oil trains a day.
“We expect a minimum of 20 years, maybe 40,” he said. “But anytime you make a prediction beyond five years you’re maybe out-predicting yourself. We certainly see it for the long haul.”
|Posted on March 15, 2014 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The nation’s freight railroads this year project they will spend approximately $26 billion to build, maintain, and upgrade their nationwide rail network, according to an estimate released today by the Association of American Railroads. Railroads also expect to hire more than 12,000 people in 2014, for jobs throughout all areas of the industry and located all across the U.S.
“This year’s projected record investments continue a decades-long trend of private railroad dollars that sustain America’s freight rail network, so taxpayer’s don’t have to,” said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “The result is a rail network that is the envy of the world, serving both freight and passenger railroads, and this massive private financial commitment is a demonstration of the industry’s resolve to never stop improving.”
Hamberger noted that freight railroads have invested approximately $550 billion of their own money into the rail network since 1980, including $115 billion in the past five years alone. From upgrades to bridges and tunnels to new tracks and facilities, freight rail infrastructure is constantly maintained and upgraded to meet the demands of an evolving economy. Thanks to a strong rail network infrastructure, railroads in recent years have been able to successfully meet increased demand for intermodal shipping, a booming domestic energy market and more. The industry’s investments also include implementing the latest safety technology across the rail network.
“The rail industry is committed to safety and we’re investing record amounts to implement safety enhancing technology across the network,” Hamberger said. “Railroads are working to deliver a safe, modern and efficient rail network that can reliably serve our customers and communities. And at the same time, this spending creates jobs for more American workers.”
The freight railroads estimate they will hire more than 12,000 employees in 2014, up from a projected 11,000 new hires in 2013. Company job listings can be accessed via www.aar.org/jobs.
“Freight rail is a great industry for a potentially life-long career with one of our great railroad companies,” Hamberger said. “America’s railroads also have a long history of hiring veterans, and railroad careers rank among the best for military veterans and their families.”
|Posted on March 15, 2014 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, March 10 — The BLET National Division is a national sponsor of Operation Lifesaver’s 2014 National Leadership Conference, which will be held May 14-15 in Albuquerque, N.M.
The educational conference provides Operation Lifesaver state program leaders, authorized volunteers, coaches, trainers, presenters and other partners with the latest information and tools for reducing vehicle-train collisions and pedestrian rail trespass incidents. The theme of the event is “See Tracks? Think Train!”
“Locomotive engineers and trainmen are all too familiar with the results of highway-rail grade crossing collisions," BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. "Many of our Brothers and Sisters are Operation Lifesaver volunteers and the BLET National Division is proud to support their ongoing railroad safety efforts.”
A daylong session for Operation Lifesaver state coordinators will be held on May 13; OL coaches and trainers will have a special training session on the morning of May 14. The Leadership Workshop starts at 1 p.m. on May 14 and concludes with a dinner on the evening of May 15.
Operation Lifesaver’s mission is to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on rail property through a nationwide network of volunteers who work to educate people about rail safety.
More information about the conference is available here.