Safety still No.1 concern as Sea-3 hearings continue: Newington board hears from Pan Am, track and state officials
|Posted on March 15, 2014 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
NEWINGTON — More than 100 people packed a Newington Planning Board hearing where they grilled representatives from Pan Am Railways and Sea-3 about the local facility’s plan to expand its propane terminal and put more cars carrying propane on area railroad tracks.
Although the project involves Sea-3’s Newington plant, the hearing room at Newington Town Hall was filled with residents and city officials from Portsmouth as well.
Catherine DiPentima, a resident of Portsmouth, stood at the front of the room Monday night and gestured toward the audience before saying, “Everybody in this room is concerned about safety.”
She described Sea-3’s proposed expansion of its propane terminal as “an enormous expansion of potentially explosive materials.”
The meeting was also attended by state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, City Councilor Esther Kennedy and City Manager John Bohenko, who spoke on behalf of Mayor Robert Lister, who couldn’t attend the meeting because he was traveling.
“The city of Portsmouth is very concerned with the transportation of propane through the city,” Bohenko said Monday night.
Bohenko said Lister supported the request by what was described as “a group of Portsmouth residents who have serious concerns” about Sea-3’s proposal to conduct “a comprehensive safety assessment” along with a “comprehensive environmental impact study.”
The group was represented by attorney Christopher Cole.
The crowd also heard from John Killoy, acting deputy regional administrator of the Federal Rail Administration, who at several points stressed the safety of moving propane by rail.
“It’s moved very safely in the type of cars it’s moved in,” Killoy said. “Accidents are few and far between.”
Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano repeated a promise that she made in a Portsmouth meeting last week, saying that if the Sea-3 project is approved, the railroad would make improvements to the rail line carrying the propane that would upgrade the tracks from Class 1 to Class 2 status.
She said the railroad inspects Class 2 lines twice a week and Class 1 lines once a week.
The improvements would include installing “10,000 new ties and some crossties.”
By moving to a Class 2 line, trains could travel up to 25 miles per hour, but Scarano again repeated Pan Am’s intention to operate the cars at 10 miles per hour.
But she also stressed that might not always be the case.
“I can’t guarantee that,” Scarano said.
When residents raised concerns about the inspections of bridges along the line, Killoy acknowledged that it is up to the rail line to inspect its own tracks and bridges, but the company could “audit the inspections” and do follow-up inspections as necessary.
Killoy also acknowledged that Pan Am would initially make the decision to move from Class 1 to Class 2 lines.
Scarano agreed, but said if the expansion project is approved, the work updating the lines to Class 2 would be completed “in a construction season.”
When a Planning Board member asked if Sea-3 officials would agree to include their commitment to have the lines upgraded to Class 2, Portsmouth attorney Alec McEachern said neither Sea-3 nor the Planning Board could tell Pan Am what to do once the rail cars leave Sea-3’s property.
“Your jurisdiction ends when they (Pan Am) come to take it away,” McEachern said about the railroad cars.
But Cole argued that the Portsmouth residents he was representing weren’t trying to “regulate the rails,” but they did want the board to make sure Sea-3 and Pan Am could safely handle “millions of gallons of flammable material.
He then asked the board to order Sea-3 to conduct a “comprehensive safety study” and have the company pay for it, which Newington zoning laws allow the town to do.
“It’s not pie in the sky,” he said of his request.
Toward the end of the hearing, Planning Board Chairman Denis Hebert acknowledged the need for more propane in New England.
“I know we do need propane for this area, but we need to do it safely,” Hebert said.
But he also promised the crowd that if the board didn’t think the expansion project could operate safely, “I don’t think this board will approve it.”
He also pointed out the alternative to bringing the propane in by rail is to transport it by trucks on the highway.
“That’s a lot more unsafe,” he said.
The board made no decision on the application Monday night and instead continued the hearing until March 24, when representatives from the state Department of Transportation are scheduled to attend.
The Sea-3 expansion would allow the Newington propane terminal to receive propane from United States suppliers via rail, instead of paying the significantly more expensive cost of getting its propane from overseas ships.
|Posted on March 3, 2014 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
Members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation on Wednesday called on the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct an inspection of railroad tracks being eyed as part of a controversial proposal to transport liquefied petroleum gas.
U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., made the request in support of the local communities of Newington, Stratham, Greenland and Portsmouth. The communities recently began to mobilize in response to the pending proposal from Sea-3, a Newington business, to expand its operations to allow it to offload more propane from rail tank cars.
Sea-3's proposal would increase the number of rail cars carrying liquefied propane to the Shattuck Way facility. These cars would pass through Newington, Stratham, Greenland and Portsmouth.
In a letter to FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo, Shea-Porter, Shaheen and Ayotte urged the FRA to quickly conduct an inspection on the condition and safety of the Portsmouth and Newington industrial tracks, which are owned by Pan Am Railways.
"These communities have raised concerns about the condition and safety of these tracks, and the dangers associated with using them to transport highly flammable material," the delegation wrote. "The safety of these tracks is of paramount importance, especially in light of a recent study of freight train derailments that found that broken rails or track welds are the leading cause of derailments."
Meanwhile, local officials are calling for a regional meeting with community leaders and representatives from Pan Am Railways and the FRA to discuss Sea 3's proposal.
City Manager John Bohenko said earlier this week that he sent a letter to Pan Am Railways, asking the company to take part in the meeting. Bohenko said he hopes all communities will be involved in a meeting tentatively scheduled in March.
The city has also created a Web page to give residents access to all information pertaining to the Sea-3 proposal.
The trio of federal lawmakers is also requesting the FRA attend the local public forum to address residents' questions on track safety and the impact on the community.
"We ask that the FRA conduct an inspection of the Portsmouth and Newington Industrial Tracks and provide the results to the Town of Newington in an expedient manner, and that the FRA participate in a public forum to discuss track safety," according to the joint statement.
While the inclusion of the congressional delegation may help expedite the process, local officials remain prepared to continue to press the issue as needed.
Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine said he believes time is of the essence for the city and surrounding communities to get ahead of the proposal. "If we wait too long, we lose," he said.
Splaine said he supports a proposal made by residents calling on the city to hire a safety consultant to conduct a risk analysis of the proposal.
|Posted on March 3, 2014 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
NEWFIELDS — Fire Chief Jeff Buxton said crews responding to a locomotive fire Tuesday night had to be careful battling the blaze that consumed the engine because “water and electricity don’t mix.”
“You have to be careful where you put the water so your firefighters don’t get electrocuted,” Buxton said.
The chief said when firefighters from Newfields and Newmarket responded to the fire in an idle Pan Am Railways train engine that was left running near the Route 108 bridge they initially tried to use a dry firefighting chemical to put it out.
But the fire had consumed the engine and Buxton said there simply wasn’t enough of the dry chemical extinguishers to extinguish the fire.
“We ended up putting a lot of water on it, but we used the ladder truck so no one had to hold the hose,” Buxton said Thursday afternoon.
Fire officials turned the investigation into what caused the fire over to Pan Am Railways, but Buxton said “it was definitely electronic in nature.”
Buxton called the fire “very unusual,” because of the amount of fire coming out of the locomotive, which he believes was destroyed in the fire.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen it,” Buxton said.
He said it’s typical for Pan Am to park train engines where this one was parked and then secure them overnight.
Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, said Thursday the investigation into what caused the fire is ongoing, but should be wrapped up in a day or two.
She said it’s the first time in her 25 years with the company she’s heard of an incident like the one that happened Tuesday.
They received the call at 9:30 from Newfields fire officials that “the locomotive was on fire.”
She said in the winter they have to keep the locomotives running because they don’t have anti-freeze and if they don’t the engines will freeze up.
|Posted on March 3, 2014 at 12:15 AM||comments (0)|
WESTFORD -- A spokeswoman for Pan Am Railways said her company continues to investigate what led to five freight cars derailing last Wednesday in town.
Pan Am Vice President Cynthia Scarano said she could not provide any more updates on the situation but expected her organization -- headquartered in Billerica -- to have a cause by the end of the week.
"We have the black-box readouts, and you can also inspect all the cars and the track to see if there was anything before that might have thrown it off," Scarano said.
Town Manager Jodi Ross, who criticized Pan Am publicly last week for not keeping the town up to speed on the derailment, told The Sun on Wednesday that she had yet to speak with Pan Am. She had not been provided with any additional information on the matter.
Pan Am eventually reported that five cars slipped off the track in the Graniteville neighborhood on Feb. 19, about 11 p.m. Two of the cars were carrying liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, a chemical that comes with a risk for explosion.
Ross said she was never notified of the incident and only became aware of it the following day, last Thursday, at 9:30 a.m., when Fire Chief Joe Targ drove by and saw rail police on the track.
The cars were teetering on the edge over an overpass at Bridge and North Main streets. Ross said she and some town officials walked onto the track to try to find a manager that morning, and were told by Pan Am employees that they were trespassing.
"I did not appreciate that," Ross said last week.
Scarano told The Sun she would have called the town had it been an urgent matter, and said that she even needs an escort to walk on tracks. Scarano stressed that no one was in any danger after the derailment, but Ross thinks otherwise.
Last Thursday, she sent Westford police knocking on residents' doors to warn of a possible evacuation if materials leaked. She also set up shelter areas. The state Department of Environmental Services and the Environmental Protection Agency were also called to the scene to provide oversight.
Ross said this week she is pleased to see new regulations coming into place that will require rail companies to notify town officials if any problem similar to last week's arises. She said she hopes that will prevent something similar from happening again.
"I haven't read and absorbed all of the regulations yet, but it definitely looks like it's a step in the right direction," Ross said. "But I think there's more work that has to be done."
At Tuesday night meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Ross said one neighbor of the Pan Am site voiced his concerns with the train site. Neighbors in the area complained shortly after the derailment that Pan Am often parks its cars on the tracks near houses and the Stony Brook aquifer with engines idling.
Scarano confirmed that there is a "holding track" near that area where some cars will pull off to the side and wait for others to pass, but she stressed that Pan Am closely follows all safety regulations laid out by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Scarano added that the incident is atypical.
Only a day before in Nashua, however, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Telegraph of Nashua reported that a Pan Am locomotive derailed downtown and halted traffic. Scarano said that was caused by ice buildup on the track.
|Posted on March 3, 2014 at 12:15 AM||comments (0)|
NEWINGTON — Several area communities are looking for safety assurances from the Federal Rail Administration, following a proposed increase in rail traffic of propane, to a Newington-based company.
In February, New Hampshire's congressional delegation joined with Newington, Portsmouth, Greenland and Newfields and Stratham in calling for the FRA to ensure the safety of a rail line proposed to carry propane cars to and from Sea-3 Inc., a division of Trammo, which operates a propane terminal facility at 190 Shattuck Way.
In the fall, Sea-3 filed for site review with the Newington Planning Board to expand its facility and operations.
In addition to on-site work, the company also proposed to expand its existing terminal to allow it to receive shipments by rail and then either distribute it regionally by truck or export it by ship. Propane has been shipped to the facility by freighters and offloaded for distribution by truck.
The proposal is intended to increase production at Sea-3 to enable the company to ship bulk propane internationally as well as domestically. In November, representatives from the company told the Portsmouth Herald the propane would likely stay in the region.
Because of the number of neighboring communities the trains would be traveling through, the SEA-3 proposal was declared a development with regional impact under state law NH RSA 36:54, allowing those neighboring municipalities to have input into the process.
The rail lines used to transport the propane are owned and operated by Pan Am Railways.
Rail safety has been a growing concern nationwide, following the fatal accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, near the Maine border last year involving a runaway train carrying oil that caused a fire and 47 deaths. Other incidents in the U.S. and Canada, involving train cars carrying fuel, have added to worries.
If approved the expansion would result in an increase in rail traffic from Rockingham Junction in Newfields, through Stratham, Greenland, Portsmouth and Newington.
In Portsmouth the line crosses under Interstate 95 south of Exit 3. It then crosses under Route 33 west of Griffin Road and roughly parallels Borthwick Avenue before crossing over the Route 1 Bypass and following Islington Street to the downtown rail yard along North Mill Pond.
From there, the rail line crosses Maplewood Avenue, Green Street and Market Street at grade, then curves to the west, passing under the approach to the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge and the I-95 bridge. Finally, the tracks pass under Kearsarge Way and between the Laurel Court and Spinnaker Way/Osprey Landing neighborhoods before exiting the city at the Public Service of New Hampshire property.
Peter Britz, Portsmouth's environmental planner, said the city's main concern is the safe operation of the rails.
“We're not out to stop business,” said Britz. “We're looking out for the safety of the city's residents.”
At present, Pan Am Railways operates two to three trains per week along the line, each with seven to 12 rail cars. With the expansion of the facility, service would increase to roughly six round trips per week, with up to 16 tank cars added to cars already part of the trains.
“It's a pretty big increase from what's happening there now and were asking the people in charge of the tracks to be aware of our safety concerns,” Britz said.
John Robinson, railroad safety inspector for the N.H. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Rail and Transit, said the rail can support the type of traffic Sea-3 is proposing.
“It's certainly capable of handling it. For what they use it for at the designated speed,” said Robinson.
Robinson said he was recently on the stretch of rail in question, not as part of recent concerns, but as part of his regular duties.
He said his inspections run the gamut on possible concerns that could be raised with regard to safety.
“We're looking at track geometry, gauge (the distance rails are apart), alignment, track level condition of spikes, drainage, vegetation, it's pretty comprehensive,” said Robinson.
In a letter dated Feb. 19, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter called for an inspection of the track. It also calls for the participation of the FRA in a public forum to discuss track safety.
Britz said he is hopeful an FRA representative will be present at the next Newington Planning Board meeting scheduled for March 10.
“Sea-3 has been pretty up front about what they've wanted to do,” said Britz. “It's not like they're not trying to be compliant. It's all kind of new. There's been requests for information and a representative from the FRA to come speak with us.”
|Posted on February 13, 2014 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
DEERFIELD – An employee with Pan Am Railways was transported by helicopter ambulance to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield Tuesday after suffering a serious injury in an accident in the rail yard , police said.
The 43-year-old employee suffered what were described as “lower extremity injuries” while working among the locomotives and trains in the rail yard. Condition reports from the hospital were not available.
The employee’s identity was not disclosed to the press.
Deerfield police, fire and emergency medical service personnel, Baystate Health Ambulance and Greenfield firefighters assisted at the scene, police said.
The accident occurred just after 11:30 a.m
The accident remains under investigation.
Officials at Pan Am Railways' home office in North Billerica declined comment.
|Posted on January 21, 2014 at 3:00 PM||comments (0)|
SOUTH DEERFIELD — Pan Am Railways will present its new draft report on how it plans to clean up the East Deerfield Rail Yard at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Town Hall.
Pan Am will hold a public meeting to present its Phase IV Remedy Implementation Plan. The report will outline its work to clean up the former Lake Asphalt property at the rail yard.
It will cover how Pan Am will implement a soil cover system and deed restriction to address the presence of asbestos, petroleum compounds and lead in the soil.
The town and state have been overseeing the railroad’s cleanup of contaminated ground for several years now in the area long used by the Boston and Maine railroad.
The meeting is part of the public information plan requested by town residents to involve the community in decisions regarding the site.
|Posted on January 21, 2014 at 3:00 PM||comments (0)|
AUGUSTA — A Skowhegan man who was dismissed after working for Pan Am Railways Inc. for 15 years claims that the company demanded he see a pricey brain specialist but refused to pay, according to a complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
David Crockett, who worked as a carman for the railway company, said his employer removed him from service in March 2012 and refused to return him to work in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act. An investigator from the state commission recommends commissioners find his claim has reasonable grounds when the panel meets on Jan. 27.
Pan Am denies Crockett’s position, instead reporting that the company removed him from service after issues were raised about his behavior over a period of months.
According to investigator Victoria Ternig’s report, Crockett was hired in 1997 for a job that required him to perform heavy work, problem solve, stay alert and follow written and oral directions. He told Ternig that he didn’t have any problems until his supervisor changed in January 2012. Crockett said that in the next month, his boss ordered him to “sign off” on railroad cars that had not been inspected, which he refused to do for fear of losing his license.
Crockett claimed that in March, his supervisor told other people at the workplace that Crockett had “barked at him like a dog” in an alleged interaction that was witnessed by no one. After, Pan Am required Crockett be examined by a doctor at Concentra to see if he was fit for duty. The doctor he saw would not clear him to return for work without further evaluation, including wanting Crockett to see a psychiatrist, he told the investigator. Even though his own medical providers cleared him for work, Pan Am refused to reinstate him or pay for a psychiatrist, Crockett said.
A nurse from Concentra told Crockett that he needed to see a brain specialist for 12-18 sessions, at $150 per hour, money which he said he didn’t have.
But Pan Am, in its response to Crockett’s allegations, told the investigator that during the year leading up to his dismissal from service, other employees and his supervisor had concerns about his behavior. He also was disciplined twice in 2011, once for excessive absenteeism and once for “failing to remove a blue flag protection on a derail.” In July 2011, an internal memorandum from one of his supervisors detailed concerns about Crockett’s difficulty concentrating and staying focused. The supervisor also noted the employee’s “odd behavior,” including the alleged dog barking incident and erratic driving.
In Ternig’s analysis, she found that while Pan Am certainly could require that its employee be examined by an appropriate health care professional, the company did not meet its obligation to provide and pay for that treatment.
“The employer cannot shift the burden onto the employee to obtain medical evidence of his or her ability to work safely, nor can the employer shift the cost of the medical evaluation onto the employee,” she wrote. “Disability discrimination based on unlawful medical inquiries is found.”
However, the investigator did not find reasonable grounds to believe Crockett’s claim that the company removed him from service and refused to return him to work in retaliation because he called attention to bad practices according to the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.
|Posted on January 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM||comments (0)|
WASHINGTON — More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents last year than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills, an analysis of the data shows.
Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.
The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.
Nearly 750,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a train on Nov. 8 near Aliceville, Ala. The train also originated in North Dakota and caught fire after it derailed in a swampy area. No one was injured or killed.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn’t yet have spill data from a Dec. 30 derailment near Casselton, N.D. But the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the lead investigator in that incident, estimates that more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled there. Though no one was injured or killed, the intense fire forced most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents to evacuate in subzero temperatures.
The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, estimates that railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year. That’s more than 11.5 billion gallons, with one tank car holding roughly 28,800 gallons.
Last year’s total spills of 1.15 million gallons means that 99.99 percent of shipments arrived without incident, close to the safety record the industry and its regulators claim about hazardous materials shipments by rail.
But until just a few years ago, railroads weren’t carrying crude oil in 80- to 100-car trains. In eight of the years between 1975 and 2009, railroads reported no spills of crude oil. In five of those years, they reported spills of one gallon or less.
In 2010, railroads reported spilling about 5,000 gallons of crude oil, according to federal data. They spilled fewer than 4,000 gallons each year in 2011 and 2012. But excluding the Alabama and North Dakota derailments, more than 11,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from trains last year.
Last week, the principal Washington regulators of crude oil shipments by rail met with railroad and oil industry representatives to discuss making changes to how crude is shipped by rail, from tank car design to operating speed to appropriate routing. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the meeting productive and said the group would take a comprehensive approach to improving the safety of crude-oil trains.
Foxx said the changes would be announced within the next 30 days.
|Posted on January 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM||comments (20)|
CLEVELAND, January 15 -- The National Division of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen is asking all members to extend a financial helping hand to a BLET member whose daughter is in need of medical assistance.
Brother Mark Tice of BLET Division 348 (Elkhart, Ind.) is a Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer. According to members of his Division, Brother Tice rarely misses work and provides well for his family. However, he is going to miss the next two weeks while he takes his daughter Vanessa, an 18-year-old high school senior, to Rhode Island to undergo treatment for CRPS -- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
CRPS is a chronic disease characterized by severe pain, swelling, and changes in the skin. CRPS worsens over time and initially affects arms or legs before usually spreading throughout the body. It is described as one of the most painful long-term conditions.
Vanessa was born prematurely and suffers from a host of medical conditions, including epilepsy, scoliosis, and asthma. She underwent cardiothoracic surgery at age 15 and was hospitalized with organ failure in June of 2011.
The Tice family has established a website detailing Vanessa’s many medical issues including her fight against CRPS. The family is asking for donations to help offset the cost of travel to Rhode Island and for Vanessa’s medical treatments at the Calmar Pain Relief Center. According to Brother Tice’s wife Anna, the pain relief treatments are not covered by insurance. Their goal is to raise $7,500, and thus far they have received $3,800 in donations.
|Posted on January 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM||comments (0)|
When an empty cargo train owned by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway derailed on the outskirts of Nantes earlier this month, the town’s mayor learned about the incident two days later on Facebook.
The MMA, the rail company responsible for the train disaster that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic last July, didn’t inform town officials, the local fire department or the Sûreté du Québec, even though one of the derailed locomotives ended up adjacent to Highway 161, one of town’s main roads, Nantes’s Mayor Jacques Breton said on Monday.
“The road was closed for an hour,” said Breton, adding that he learned about the accident 48 hours later after reading a post about it on a friend’s Facebook page.
Breton suggested that the beleaguered railway company tried to keep the derailment quiet because it didn’t want any bad publicity given its impending sale in the U.S. later this month.
“They worked quickly to get it back on the track with a crane and tried to camouflage it as much as they could,” he claimed.
The railway company, which is under bankruptcy protection, is scheduled to be sold at an auction in Maine in a few weeks. The company will continue to operate after the sale.
“This isn’t the time to say that there are derailments all over the place,” Breton speculated.
The train was empty when the accident occurred and the derailment was likely caused by a buildup of ice and snow on poorly-maintained tracks, Breton said.
The accident happened in the Laval Nord section of Nantes, about four kilometres from Lac-Mégantic.
He said it’s unacceptable that the company failed to inform him or anyone else in the town of the derailment because there are farms and residential houses close by.
When a derailment occurs near a residential area or a public road, local officials are supposed to be informed, he said.
Breton said he hopes the new owners of the railway commit to upgrading the tracks in Nantes because he said they are in poor condition.
“They are not secure,” he said.
MMA filed for bankruptcy protection after the July derailment, which was caused after a train with 72 oil tankers began rolling after being left unattended in Nantes.
The runaway train derailed and exploded, destroying much of the town centre in Lac-Mégantic and spilling nearly six million litres of crude oil.
After the accident in Lac-Mégantic, MMA said it would no longer transport oil.
Officials with MMA didn’t return phone calls from The Gazette on Monday.
|Posted on January 5, 2014 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, December 31 -- The BLET Safety Task Force has dispatched two teams of responders to assist the National Transportation Safety Board with investigations following derailments in Casselton, N.D., and Keithville, La.
On December 30, a BNSF Railway grain train derailed and a train traveling in the opposite direction carry crude oil struck the derailment and derailed. There was a significant post-crash fire, which sparked the evacuation of 2,300 residents within a five-mile radius of the derailment site. BLET Safety Task Force responder D.B. Kenner, Division 195 (Forsyth, Mont.), is representing BLET as part of the NTSB investigation. The wind chill factor at the accident scene is expected to be about 34 degrees below zero.
Also on December 30, a Union Pacific train collided with a parked BNSF train near Keithville, La. Multiple crew members were injured, according to media reports. BLET Safety Task Force responders Russell Elley, Division 197 (San Antonio, Texas) and Timothy Dickerson, Division 216 (Tampa, Fla.) are representing the BLET during the NTSB investigation.
The BLET Safety Task Force assists federal agencies in the investigation of rail accidents, helping to determine probable causes and making safety recommendations. The STF will study the accident from the viewpoint of locomotive engineers and trainmen to help determine how the accident occurred and how to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future.
The NTSB will handle release of details regarding these derailments as the on-site investigation unfolds.
|Posted on January 5, 2014 at 11:10 AM||comments (0)|
The type of crude oil carried by a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train that crashed and burned in Quebec, killing 47 people, may be more flammable and dangerous to ship by rail than other varieties, according to a U.S. regulator, but much less of that oil is now being transported through Maine. A fireball blooms as an oil train derails Monday in Casselton, N.D. The North Dakota accident is the fourth major derailment in North America in six months involving trains transporting a type of crude oil that safety officials said is more flammable and dangerous to ship by rail. Among other things, regulators called for better labeling and stronger tank cars.
Nearly 5.3 million barrels of the oil, which is largely produced in North America’s Bakken region, passed through Maine last year by train, en route to the Irving oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. Since the deadly accident in July in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, shipments of that type of oil through Maine have declined significantly. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced its preliminary conclusion Thursday about the volatility of Bakken crude oil, three days after a BNSF Railway Co. train carrying that type of oil caught fire and exploded after a collision in Casselton, N.D. The North Dakota accident is the fourth major North American derailment in six months involving trains transporting crude oil. Record volumes of oil are moving by rail as production from North Dakota and Texas have pushed U.S. output to its highest level since 1988 and pipeline capacity has failed to keep up.
Since the accident in July, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic stopped shipping oil on its line because of political opposition in Quebec. Pan Am Railways, which has been hauling oil on a route that takes it through southern Maine, has cut back on oil shipments since the Lac-Megantic accident. The company on Friday declined to comment. In October, the last month for which state data are available, Pan Am transported 70,000 barrels – less than one-fifth of the amount of oil the railroad shipped per month last spring. Chalmers Hardenbergh, editor of Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports, a trade newsletter based in Freeport, said his network of rail fans provide him with reports on rail shipments. In recent months, they have not seen any trains carrying oil in Maine, he said.
He said the oil reaching the Irving refinery is transported on the Canadian National Railway, which travels around Maine through New Brunswick. In addition, Irving is getting oil via ships. Hardenbergh said the vessels pick up oil in Albany, N.Y., and travel down the Hudson River and along the New England coast to Saint John. “It’s sailing past Maine, not stopping,” he said. The wreck in North Dakota resulted in an explosion that sent massive flames into the sky, although nobody was injured because the accident occurred in an unpopulated area.
Hardenbergh, who saw a video of the explosion, said the accident in North Dakota will put additional political pressure on the rail industry to use stronger tank cars for moving crude. “When I saw that mushroom cloud, I thought, ‘Oh my, who would want that stuff running through their town?’ ” he said.
LABELING 'IS CAUSE FOR CONCERN'
The findings by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration strengthen call for the petroleum industry to accurately label the contents of tank cars and to test shipments to make sure they don’t contain gases produced in the hydraulic fracturing process. “We believe there is sufficient cause for concern” about whether crude shippers are properly labeling tank cars’ contents, Jeannie Shiffer, a pipeline-regulator spokeswoman, said in an email.
U.S. regulators, including the Federal Railroad Administration, began examining whether Bakken crude is more risky to move by rail following the July explosion of rail cars carrying North Dakota crude in Lac-Megantic. The agencies on Thursday said those inspections will continue. About three-quarters of the oil produced in North Dakota is shipped by rail rather than pipeline. The “implications for cost and speed of crude out of the Bakken as a result of today’s safety alert are likely to depend on the rule-making” that follows, Kevin Book, managing director for research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC in Washington, said in an e-mail. “We expect that the North Dakota accident will bring a proposal sooner rather than later.”
The oil carried on the train that crashed in Lac-Megantic was improperly labeled as a less-volatile liquid with a lower level of hazard, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said in September. Crude oils carried in tank cars are classified as flammable liquids and then divided into so-called packing groups based on their level of hazard, with PG I being the most hazardous and PG III being the least. The Bakken oil being transported by the train that derailed in Quebec was described as PG III when it should have been PG II, the board said.
The crude was being delivered to Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John from the Bakken region. The Bakken shale formation is in the northwestern part of North Dakota and eastern Montana.
NORTH DAKOTA OUTPUT SPIKES
The boom in hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and chemicals are shot underground to break apart rock and free the fuel, helped North Dakota pass Alaska in 2012 to become the second-largest onshore producer of oil among U.S. states. Output from that state’s portion of the Bakken formation was up by 250,000 barrels per day in September from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Some supporters of the proposed Keystone XL Canada-U.S. pipeline say rail accidents buttress their argument. Opponents of the project, by TransCanada Corp. of Calgary, point to spills in Alabama, Michigan and North Dakota to show that method of transporting oil carries its own hazards. In September, a Tesoro Corp. pipeline ruptured and spilled 20,000 barrels of crude in northwest North Dakota.
The pipeline safety agency announced that it was establishing new rules for fuel shipments in September. That agency and the rail-safety regulator are also considering a rule to require stronger tank cars. The proposal has the rail industry’s support and is being challenged by the shippers that own or lease the railcars.
The Association of American Railroads in November asked regulators to require most of the U.S. tank car fleet to be replaced or retrofitted to make the equipment better able to withstand a crash. The Washington-based trade group’s members include BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
“The rail industry is and is going to continue to be a player in the rush to this country’s energy independence,” Patti Reilly, a rail association spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. “We’re going to do everything we can to help this country achieve energy independence and we’re going to do it in the safest possible manner."
|Posted on January 5, 2014 at 11:05 AM||comments (0)|
Schaghticoke, N.Y. - The driver of a tractor-trailer truck that crashed into a freight train at a village crossing on Friday afternoon appears to be OK, family members said. The accident happened at about 2 p.m. when the truck, hauling 24 tons of corn to be used by local farmers for feed, couldn't stop as it headed downhill on a slippery Fisherman's Lane — straight for the oncoming train, family members and officials at the scene said. The first Norfolk Southern locomotive pulling the train, operated by Pan Am Railways, struck the truck, shearing off the cab from the trailer. The crash forced the truck's cab and the driver into the Hoosic River and left the trailer, smashed, on the northern end of the bridge, officials said.
The driver, a local farmer, was able to get out of the water, officials said, and he was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Troy. His condition wasn't available, but the family members said he was not seriously hurt. They declined to provide his name. The family operates a local farm within site of accident scene. The corn is ground into meal and sold to other farms in the area.
No one was injured on the train, which did not derail, said Pan Am Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano. The train was carrying 29 racks loaded with automobiles, with two intermodal containers at the end, for a total of 31 cars, Scarano said. It couldn't be determined where the eastbound train was headed. At the scene, the train was moved back, but how long it would remain there was unknown. Some damage to the front of the first of three locomotives could be seen. The crossing at Fisherman's Lane, a single-lane gravel road, has a railroad crossing sign but no gates or lights.
Schaghticoke Fire Chief Mike Jackson said firefighters would be at the scene for a while dealing with the aftermath in the frigid temperatures, including cleaning corn feed off the tracks. Jackson said he hadn't seen any similar accidents in his experience. Three other departments responded, as did State Police.
|Posted on January 5, 2014 at 11:00 AM||comments (0)|
SACO — A single-car train derailed late Friday morning as it crossed Industrial Park Road while heading onto an unplowed section of track to make a lumber delivery to a nearby company. The Pan Am Railways locomotive slipped off the track shortly before 10:55 a.m., leaving the engine and its single car blocking traffic at the railroad crossing on Industrial Park Road for about 4½ hours. No one was injured in the derailment, and no vehicles were damaged.
The train came to a stop with piles of snow beneath it. Pan Am Railways workers could be seen in the early afternoon digging out the snow with hand shovels. The company used a second engine to remove the derailed train from the crossing at about 3:20 p.m., in time for the afternoon rush hour. But the first engine remained skewed off the track. The train was on its way to make a routine delivery to the Boise Cascade facility at 68 Industrial Park Road when it derailed on the slippery crossing, according to Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways.
“We go up the industrial track two to three times per week,” Scarano said. “Ice can be an issue depending on how the tracks are plowed, but weather does not often contribute to derailments.” Traffic entering and exiting the Maine Turnpike was diverted from Industrial Park Road to Main Street by Saco police. Scarano said it is not out of the ordinary for the train to travel the snowy track without a plow on front.
|Posted on December 9, 2013 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
NEW YORK (AP) - A week after four people died in a New York commuter train derailment, two federal lawmakers proposed Sunday that trains nationwide be outfitted with cameras pointed at engineers and at the tracks.
"I know you're going to hear from Metro-North that there are costs, but the costs of these audio and visual recorders is minuscule, in fact negligible, compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that this tragic incident will cost Metro-North in the end," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut who joined New York Sen. Charles Schumer for a news conference at Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal.
Last Sunday, a Metro-North Railroad train approached a curve on the tracks just north of Manhattan going 82 mph - nearly three times 30 mph speed limit. Rail cars careened off the tracks, with the front car ending up inches from the water where the Hudson River meets the Harlem River.
A lawyer and union leader for the derailed train's engineer, William Rockefeller, have said the train's hypnotic motion may have caused him to experience a "nod" or a "daze" at the controls.
The Democratic lawmakers are urging the Federal Railroad Administration to demand the implementation of a measure they say might prevent the kind of deadly Metro-North derailment that also left dozens of people injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board first recommended installation of the audio and video recording cameras in locomotives and operating railway cabs five years ago.
The railroad administration issued a statement saying that safety was its "highest priority" and 2012 was the safest year in railroading history.
"We support the use of cameras in cabs to further improve safety," the agency said, adding that it continues to work with the NTSB on the investigation into the New York accident.
The NTSB said it has a "long history of advocating for improvements stemming from fatal accidents."
"In an era where the average citizen has a device in their pocket capable of recording audio and video, installing cameras in locomotives for accident investigation and prevention purposes simply moves the railroad industry into the 21st century," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a statement.
Schumer said fatigue was suspected in two other collisions - one in Iowa, in 2011 and another in Newton, Mass., in 2008 - and might have been proven if cameras were present. He said such images might have caught behavior patterns that could have been prevented in the future.
"Get on board and implement these recommendations now," Schumer said, directing his comments to the Federal Railroad Administration, which has the power to demand the changes. The railroad administration has yet to take any regulatory action putting these recommendations in place.
"Shame on Metro-North for failing to adopt this system," Blumenthal said. "Shame on the operators of this railroad for failing to move forward with a recommendation that is so cost effective. Keep people alive."
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North, released a statement late Sunday detailing immediate changes to improve safety on curves and bridges.
Those improvements include the installation of new signal safety protections at the crash site that - starting Monday - will warn engineers of approaching speed reductions and automatically apply the train's emergency brakes if speed is not lowered to the 30 mph maximum in the curve.
Metro-North engineers are also developing new signal protections to automatically enforce speed restrictions at four other critical curves by March and at five movable bridges by September, the MTA said.
By Tuesday morning, Metro-North will require that "conductors stand with engineers at each train's control cab through the critical curves to verbally confirm that speed limits are adhered to," the MTA said. The railroad will also reduce the maximum authorized speed at 26 locations.
The NTSB's recommendation for the camera program followed a train collision in California that killed 25 people, including the engineer, and injured more than 130. The NTSB said the engineer's texting was the primary cause of the accident.
In a letter this week to the NTSB, the two senators noted that "in the wake of a 2008 railway collision in California, the NTSB recommended inward facing cameras, which would monitor train crew performance, as well as outward facing cameras, which would be used to monitor crossing accidents and to recognize any deficiencies on the tracks."
Schumer and Blumenthal said they believe such recording devices "may be used as a deterrent for dangerous behavior, like falling asleep or texting, and may also be used after a rail crash to determine the cause of the crash."
Amtrak locomotives and California's Metrolink commuter rail have outward facing cameras that record signals and gate crossings.
|Posted on December 9, 2013 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, December 9 -- Effective January 1, 2014, The Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan (GA-23000), The Railroad Employees National Dental Plan (GP-12000), The Railroad Employees National Vision Plan, and the Railroad Employees National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit Plan (GA-46000) will provide dependent coverage for legally married same-sex spouses of eligible employees.
Although the benefit is not required by law or under current collective bargaining agreements, Rail Labor and Rail Management reached an agreement to extend dependent coverage to eligible employee''s legally married same sex spouse. The agreement reached is in light of recent changes allowing same-sex couples to access the same federal tax benefits provided to other married couples.
Employees will receive additional details concerning this coverage in the coming weeks. The National Health and Welfare Plans cover approximately 400,000 lives at an annual cost of approximately $2 billion.
|Posted on December 9, 2013 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, December 5 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 51,000 active and retired locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. While we are the largest union representing locomotive engineers in America, we do not currently represent locomotive engineers at Metro-North and, therefore, have refrained from commenting on the December 1 derailment or the ongoing investigation. In light of the multiple requests for comments on the derailment from various news outlets, BLET has issued the following statement from National President Dennis R. Pierce.
“First and foremost, the BLET extends our deepest sympathies to all accident victims and their loved ones. It is impossible for those who were not affected to understand the grief that now surrounds those who were, but it is paramount that the lessons from this tragedy are used to prevent any such loss in the future. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the professional and highly skilled locomotive engineers and conductors at Metro-North, who have expressed shock and sadness at the events of December 1.
“As to questions concerning the training that is provided to locomotive engineers, in general terms most engineers are seasoned veterans who receive years of on-the-job training working as rail conductors or in other railroad crafts. They must also complete classroom training and numerous written and field tests prior to earning promotion to engineer. Locomotive engineers are subject to extensive certification requirements pursuant to the provisions of Part 240 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Under Part 240, each railroad must have in place a certification program approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). An individual railroad’s certification program must meet minimum federal safety requirements for the eligibility, training, testing, certification and monitoring of its locomotive engineers. Locomotive engineers are then subject to annual testing to maintain their license, and must be recertified every three years.
“With respect to fatigue, BLET has been at the forefront of an effort to mitigate fatigue amongst railroad engineers and conductors. Although most passenger and commuter rail engineers and conductors work scheduled shifts, fatigue still occurs when work cycles are changed. In addition, most locomotive engineers who work for the freight railroads that run side by side with passenger operations must report for duty on an as-needed basis. They are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. These demanding work schedules can result in instances of fatigue. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has worked to ensure the safety of its members and the general public by seeking to resolve the issue of fatigue, either through the collective bargaining process or through the legislative arena.
“BLET has also called for the implementation of Positive Train Control technology for decades. This life-saving technology provides a safety overlay that assists locomotive engineers as they approach speed restrictions as well as required stops. History has shown that Positive Train Control could have prevented many of the fatalities and injuries suffered across the country by railroad employees and the general public. The BLET will continue in our efforts to see that this technology is implemented as soon as possible.”
|Posted on November 24, 2013 at 5:20 PM||comments (0)|
NEWINGTON — The proposed expansion of a propane dealer's facility along Shattuck Way would affect the region, and neighboring towns should have the opportunity to weigh in on the plans, the Planning Board determined Monday night. Sea-3 Inc. appeared before the Newington Planning Board for a public hearing to reconfigure its terminal at 190 Shattuck Way to accommodate rail shipments of liquefied petroleum gas, better known as propane. The board voted to accept Sea-3's preliminary application as substantially complete, paving the way for the approval process to move forward, but not before raising serious concerns about the project's implications for the town and region. The board voted unanimously that the application is of regional concern and that towns that would be affected should be notified. Paul Bogan, Sea-3 vice president of operations, said that the business has been a propane importer since 1975. The venture was profitable until about two years ago, when "our energy world turned upside-down," he said.
New domestic drilling opportunities led to increased production of propane and natural gas, resulting in a drop in domestic prices and a rise in the cost to import, Bogan said. While he did not refer to it Monday night, the new drilling opportunities are a result of the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial process that extracts natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the Earth by drilling and injecting highly pressurized fluids into the bedrock. The difference in the price essentially put us out of business," Bogan said, adding, "we haven't made a nickel in two years. This is one way we're looking to take advantage of the domestic market."
The proposed upgrades to the local Sea-3 facility would allow the business to become an exporter of propane. The product would be shipped in by rail car and off-loaded into three new ambient storage tanks. The propane would flow through a series of chillers and be stored in two existing on-site refrigerated storage tanks with a combined capacity of 21 million gallons, Bogan said. Some of the propane delivered by rail would be pumped directly to trucks that would distribute the product locally, while the rest would remain in storage until shipped overseas by freighter four to six times annually, he said. Sea-3 currently has three existing unloading towers it has used over the years to bring in rail cars and unload them; it is looking to add three unloading towers for immediate use, which would increase unloading capacity to 12 rail cars daily. The plans also seek two additional unloading spots in anticipation of future expansion. Part of the board's discussion Monday night focused on the increased rail traffic and the safety of the Pam Am Railways tracks that carry the freight. In questioning the condition of the tracks, board Chairman Denis Hebert cited the limitation that trains travel at no faster than 10 mph.
Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, said the tracks are inspected weekly and the Federal Railroad Administration has representatives on the lines daily to inspect tracks, cars, dispatchers, Pan Am procedures and more. She made an analogy to a four-lane highway when explaining the slow speed. "You don't build a four-lane highway until you need a four-lane highway," she said. "In this circumstance, we don't find that we need it any faster than it is." Paul Sanderson, a member of the Greenland Planning Board, said the rail line crosses over 10 public roadways in that town, and only two of those locations have active protection in the form of signals and lights. Others have nothing but a stop sign, and two don't even have that, he said.
Sanderson said the railroad crosses through several neighborhoods and the increase in traffic would likely affect residents. "We have not been used to daily train operations for many, many years," he said. He indicated it was "pretty likely" Greenland would be initiating proceedings with the N.H. Department of Transportation to improve motorist protections at railroad crossings. Other concerns focused on public safety. Hebert said the main fear among locals is the potential that the propane storage tanks are a "big bomb waiting to go off." Bogan said explosions do rarely occur, usually because of a lack of cooling. He described an elaborate on-site sprinkler system that would spray water to keep the tanks cool in case of a fire. The rail cars, meanwhile, are insulated to protect against any fiery explosion, he said. After discussing the expansion plans, the board voted to hire two independent experts on fire and rail safety to examine the project, at Sea-3's expense. Bogan indicated he would be ready to return before the board next month.
|Posted on November 24, 2013 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, November 22 -- The BLET, working jointly with SMART-Transportation Division (formerly the United Transportation Union), made nearly 150 visits to members of the U.S. House of Representatives this week in support of H.R. 3040, the Safe Freight Act. The bill would mandate by federal law that two qualified individuals are in the cab of each freight train operating in the United States. BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce and Vice President & National Legislative Representative John Tolman led the team of BLET lobbyists, which also included: Texas State Legislative Board Chairman Terry Briggs; Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman Tim Hanely; District of Columbia State Legislative Board Chairman Herbert Harris; Pennsylvania State Legislative Board Chairman Ken Kertesz; Illinois State Legislative Board Chairman Paul Piekarski; Director of Regulatory Affairs Vince Verna; and Director of Bylaws Administration John Fink.
President Pierce thanked all officers and members of both unions who took the time to walk the hill and get the unions’ message to the members of congress. "Although I too met with members of Congress to make our case, it was the National Vice Presidents, State Chairmen, State Directors and Staff members of both unions who did the heavy lifting on the hill. It is events like this that show the true depth and strength of our legislative department and I am proud to have been there with them" The legislation requires 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."
Representatives Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the legislation on August 2 in the aftermath of the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which heightened awareness of the risks of single person operations. The BLET, along with SMART-TD, has been working to gain co-sponsors for this bill since its introduction. The organizations recently sent a joint letter to all offices of the House of Representatives refuting memos sent to the Hill by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Shortline & Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) for the purpose of dissuading possible support of the legislation. In the joint letter sent by BLET and SMART-TD, the unions noted that "[t]wo-person crews are the norm in both the U.S. and Canada. This bill will prevent a handful of rogue operators from endangering their employees and the communities through which they pass ...
"The railroad industry has become a safer place to work than ever before, in large part because of the professionals who run the trains across America. And the folks who run our nation’s trains agree that the safest way to operate a train is with at least two certified crew members. Our industry is reducing the number of fender bender accidents, but fatalities continue to be in the teens for on-duty railroad employees. H.R. 3040 -- the Safe Freight Act, is a bipartisan bill that will ensure that trains are operated safely everywhere in America." To follow up on the lobbying effort, President Pierce is now asking BLET members, retirees, the BLET Auxiliary, and all concerned family members to contact their members of Congress to continue the effort to increase the number of co-sponsors. "I urge all BLET members to contact their members of the U.S. House of Representatives and ask them to sign on to this vital piece of legislation," President Pierce said. "As the railroads noted in their letters to Congress, the issue is also going through the regulatory process as a result of Federal Railroad Administration Emergency Order 28, but that process isn’t an exact science. A Congressional mandate will be the best way to ensure the safest manner of operations possible, and we believe that means having two qualified people on each freight train in this country."