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Old Apr 30, 2014, 07:32 PM   #1
LizKat
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Yet another derailment of an oil train

Here we go again. Man, crude oil rail transport is getting to seem almost as bad as pipelines.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/...A3T0YW20140430

This one derailed (with ensuing fire) in Lynchburg, VA. Some of the tanker cars went into the James River and several were breached, leaking oil into the water. This is the second CSX oil train accident in 2014.
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Old Apr 30, 2014, 10:42 PM   #2
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Luckily there were no deaths, unlike the one which derailed last summer.
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Old May 1, 2014, 02:10 AM   #3
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Not good. We had ours in Quebec last year where 47 people perished. Train was improperly attended and braked. Rolled back into a town and exploded into a hellish inferno. Never did find some of the people as the fire was so intense.

Had one several years ago just minutes down the road from where I am and spilled into a well used lake. Wiped the fish population out completely and ruined all the lake front cottage area. We are now several years removed from it and the lake is only starting to recover.

Shame governments don't take a closer look at this and set some rules in place to prevent it from happening.
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Old May 2, 2014, 11:09 PM   #4
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As I understood railroad companies built the infamous DOT-111 tankers to be cheap and reliable, but not resistant to derailment or impact. They never expected them to be used in very large amounts in trains as they are now. Typical short-sighted view led by corporate greed.
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Old May 3, 2014, 12:54 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cubytus View Post
As I understood railroad companies built the infamous DOT-111 tankers to be cheap and reliable, but not resistant to derailment or impact. They never expected them to be used in very large amounts in trains as they are now. Typical short-sighted view led by corporate greed.
There were new specs/standards issued for the DOT-111 tanker design in 2011, that made the cars stronger, but nothing was done to the older, existed DOT-111s already in service, that are likely to remain in service for some time.

Historically speaking, the U.S. railroads have "interesting" record in regards to how both freight and passenger cars were designed and implemented -- cheap construction techniques almost always won out over safety.

During WWI, the nation's railroads were briefly nationalized, under the control of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA). One of the major projects the USRA took on was creating a series of designs for locomotives and freight/passenger equipment that would bring the country's railroads "up to snuff". If not for these designs, the American railroads would have drug their feet for many more decades.

But then too, the tracks themselves of American railroads always been of inferior design when compared to most railroads of the world. The American approach was to construct roadbed as cheaply as possible, then make up for a (cheaply built) very rough-riding track by improving the design of the "trucks", the wheel assemblies that the railroad cars road upon.

Continuous welded rail, more commonly called "ribbon rail", is now used extensively on U.S. railroad mainline trackage. Before that, the rail was rarely longer than 40 foot in length. Now, the rails are about 1/4 mile in length. It's more expensive to lay than the old jointed tracks were , but is has lower maintenance costs.

Unfortunately, the iron rail expands and contracts with temperature extremes, thus the track can become distorted, which can cause derailments.
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Old May 3, 2014, 07:18 AM   #6
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Nasty accident, glad no one was killed this time.
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Old May 3, 2014, 11:06 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cubytus View Post
As I understood railroad companies built the infamous DOT-111 tankers to be cheap and reliable, but not resistant to derailment or impact. They never expected them to be used in very large amounts in trains as they are now. Typical short-sighted view led by corporate greed.
Not disagreeing ... But governments need to take responsibility too. The cars are legal - so the corporations were within the law. Canadians have now made the older cars illegal and are phasing them out. I'm surprised it took this long, tbh, and that they are risking another Lac Megantic.
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Old May 3, 2014, 09:39 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cubytus View Post
As I understood railroad companies built the infamous DOT-111 tankers to be cheap and reliable, but not resistant to derailment or impact. They never expected them to be used in very large amounts in trains as they are now. Typical short-sighted view led by corporate greed.
Some of these trains are like a hundred cars long. Put that with the fact that Bakken crude is almost as flammable as gasoline and it surely makes you not want to be stuck at a grade crossing while the thing passes by.

CSX was fined by New York State for not promptly reporting a couple of derailments earlier in the spring: AP link . No oil was spilled and the cars apparently didn't actually tip over. Maybe the thought crossed a few minds that reporting that kind of incident was optional. Not sure a fine of only ten grand would change that mindset.
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Old May 4, 2014, 03:42 AM   #9
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One thing to keep in mind is the fact that most of the railroad tank cars used in North America are owned by companies that lease the tank cars to shippers. In other words the cars aren't owned by the railroads (See graphic, below).

Railway Age has an article on the DOT-111 tank cars, "Re-inventing the DOT 111", which offers some insight into the issue. Except follows:

"The NTSB estimates that 69% of today's tank car fleet has a high incidence of tank failure during accidents. For cars transporting Bakken crude, corrosion problems are a concern. The Volatile chemicals in the oil (hydrogen sulfide, etc.) are likely accelerating the corrosion. Crude oil composition varies by region, and even within regions, making documentation of loaded crude oil, now under intense scrutiny, problematic. Corrosion-resistant tank linings are one solution, but they may render CBR less competitive due to the high cost of a lining—$7,000 to $10,000 per car—and the resulting reduction in tank capacity and higher transportation cost."
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Old May 4, 2014, 09:20 AM   #10
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The two big Canadian rail companies both stated that they were legally required to move railcars if those cars were 'legal' under current safety regulations. In other words they couldn't arbitrarily pick and choose whose cargo to move and whose cargo to leave behind. So I'm not sure it's necessarily the rail company's fault in this case that they are moving railcars with an underwhelming safety margin.
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Old May 4, 2014, 12:21 PM   #11
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Well so we're ending up where no one is at fault? Heh. A lawyer's worst nightmare, surely.

Railways must take the cars if they're legal.

Cars are legal (even though apparently not up to the task).

Owners of oil (or refiners) don't own the cars, just lease them.

The public is to blame because still (by default) demanding fossil fuels, is that it?

OK then! Time to ask for something else instead !!!

This could end up in PRSI if I have another cup of coffee, so I'm off to my chores instead.
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Old May 4, 2014, 12:31 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by snberk103 View Post
Not disagreeing ... But governments need to take responsibility too. The cars are legal - so the corporations were within the law. Canadians have now made the older cars illegal and are phasing them out. I'm surprised it took this long, tbh, and that they are risking another Lac Megantic.
As I understood it, governments of North America had a largely hands-off approach, under heavy corporate lobbying, typical of right-ist policies, and tolerated lack of cooperation from rail transport companies, including not reporting minor incidents leading to spills but no casualties and not revealing quantities of dangerous goods transported, so emergency response departments can't be prepared. Plus, fines are not dissuasive enough to make companies err on the side of caution, and currently cities don't have the power to block a dangerous good train from entering.

When Lac Mégantic was devastated, attempts to make the MMA pay for damage was unsuccessful as they filed for bankruptcy yet didn't have proper insurance coverage.

As LizKat points out, these fragile tankers were never made to be assembled in trains that long, with all the risks that come with it. Newer, more secure norms are worth nothing if no coercion is used.
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Old May 4, 2014, 06:40 PM   #13
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How the RR tank car "monopoly" got started (in North America)

You can trace it all back to J. D. Rockerfeller and the Standard Oil Company...

I'm going to just cut-n-paste the following from the UTLX history page

Quote:
In 1891, the nation fought a war over oil. The battlegrounds were not overseas deserts, but the halls of the U.S. Congress. The government, armed with the newly created Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Sherman Antitrust Act, faced off against the Standard Oil Company, history's largest monopoly.

Standard Oil was better known for lubrication than for transportation, but a key to its success was Union Tank Line, its railcar subsidiary. Standard Oil leader John D. Rockefeller used tank cars as his "secret weapon" to dominate the industry by gaining control of oil shipping.

Oil refined into kerosene was in big demand for lighting and other uses. The earliest tank cars were built in 1865 to transport oil from field wells. Although they were little more than two large wooden tubs mounted on a flatcar, they were much more efficient than previous shipping options. And within five years, an improved design using the now-familiar cylindrical iron tanks made tank cars the obvious transportation choice.

As Rockefeller spiraled upward in the oil industry, he expanded his domination of rail transportation by taking over several railcar suppliers until almost all tank cars carried the now- familiar UTLX identification. When federal and state governments began flexing their new regulatory muscle against the monopoly, Union Tank Line was an obvious target. On July 14, 1891, the Standard trust dodged the legal assault by forming a "separate" corporation, the Union Tank Line Company, dedicated to transportation.
Fast-forward to today...

Tank cars that carry crude oil are usually not owned by the railroads and only rarely owned by the shippers who use them. Union Tank Car, along with its Canadian affiliate Procor and its Mexican agent Carrotanques Unidos, is the largest tank car lessor in North American.

UTLX is the "reporting marks" for the Union Tank Car Company. So, if you see a tank car passing by on the rails that bears the initials "UTLX", it's owned by the Union Tank Car Company.

Thumb resize.


Now, here's a little bit of info cut-n-pasted from the article "The Man Behind the Exploding Trains"...

Quote:
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment group is the biggest player in the tank car leasing business with around 40 percent of the market through its Marmon Group subsidiary, which owns both Union Tank Car Company (UTLX) and Procor Limted. At the end of 2012, Berkshire Hathaway owned 97,000 tank cars—a portion of which is dedicated to hauling ethanol and crude oil—with a net book value of $4 billion. The next biggest player, GATX Corp, is scarcely more than half the size. (Other major tank car owners include American Railcar Leasing; CIT Rail; General Electric Railcar Services Corporation; The Greenbrier Companies; and Trinity Rail Group, LLC.)

Buffett is also a major player in the railroad side of oil-by-rail. Berkshire Hathaway has full ownership of BNSF Railway Company, and BNSF is the biggest railroad player in the Bakken oil region, which currently supplies all the crude for Northwest oil-by-rail facilities. BNSF expects to have the capacity to ship as much as 1 million barrels of crude daily out of Montana and North Dakota. And BNSF isn’t some side line business for Berkshire Hathaway; it’s a major part of the firm, making up 13 percent of revenues in 2012.
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