By Russell Hubbard / World-Herald staff writer
Union Pacific Railroad has applied for permission to haul liquefied natural gas, which would add another combustible cargo to a U.S. rail network already being criticized for transporting ethanol and crude oil through populated areas.
This is truly sad. This company is having record Quarter after Quarter, and yet STILL can't seem to do the right thing when it comes to their employees! It's an absolute embarrassment. just my humble opinion, of course.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced yesterday that Union Pacific Railroad violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act at the railroad's North Platte, Neb., yard by disciplining employees who reported workplace injuries and sought medical attention.
Written by David Thomas, Contributing Editor
Transport Canada's selection March 11, 2015 of new tank car specifications is surely a harbinger of the choice the White House will make later this spring from among the options proposed by U.S. rail and hazmat regulators.
The clue is in Transport Minister Lisa Raitt's revelation that Canada could not secure U.S. support for advanced braking systems for oil trains—a clear inference that agreement has been reached on the other specifications for a future TC/DOT-117 tank car.
Sticking a "TC" in front of the U.S. "DOT-117" designation makes it pretty certain that Canada has been advised that the White House has made up its mind on 9/16-inch-thick hulls, full head shields, thermal insulation, and enhanced rollover protection for top fittings. This was the option preferred by the Association of American Railroads, which naturally welcomed the Canadian decision as the benchmark for a necessarily common North American standard.
However, Canada's May 2017 deadline for getting DOT-111s out of crude oil service effectively scuttles the U.S. regulators' strategy of shuffling the oldest cars to Alberta tar sands service as new cars come on stream.
The rule package proposed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) anticipates DOT-111s remaining in crude oil service until October 2020: ". . . some DOT(-111) Unjacketed and CPC 1232 Unjacketed cars (about 8,000 cars) will be transferred to Alberta, Canada tar sands services. No existing tank cars will be forced into early retirement."
The two recent Ontario explosions of CN unit trains hauling Alberta tar sands crude had already exposed PHMSA's incomprehensible misunderstanding of bitumen blended for transport. ("Dilbit" is bitumen diluted with naptha or other liquid petroleum gases to make it flow; "synbit" is partially refined bitumen intentionally boosted with highly explosive hydrogen gas.)
So, the White House now has to figure out what to do with the thousands of old DOT-111s that will be banned in 24 months from crude service, bitumen or otherwise, north of the 49th Parallel. Either these cars will be allowed to haul crude in the U.S. well beyond their originally proposed 2020 withdrawal, or they will, indeed, be forced into "early retirement."
Canada's transport minister offered another hint of regulatory rebellion among the political tribes ranging above America's northern frontier. Raitt said that a requirement for ECP (electronically controlled pneumatic) unit train braking will re-emerge in new rail operating rules for high-hazard trains in Canada. The rail industry in the U.S. is resisting the PHMSA recommendation for electronic brake controls, but Canada could independently require them for domestic or cross-border service.
Unlike the U.S., where the regulatory process requires months of wide-open public consultation and interminable iteration of rule proposals, Canadian rail regulation is by executive fiat, with an optional cover of voluntary consultations with handpicked industry experts. Under the country's parliamentary system, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has direct, personal power over both the elected legislature and the departments that implement law, including Raitt's Transport Canada.
Harper's government has an established record of hostility toward the country's railways and tight ties to the oil industry that provides his Conservative Party its financial and ideological power base. What other government would spend millions of taxpayer dollars on foreign newspaper advertising to promote a private pipeline scheme?
Harper's oil-dependent government is moving quickly on tank cars and railway operating rules to preserve a vital transportation option for Alberta's tar sands. Harper (and the U.S. State Department) argued that rail was an obvious alternative should the Keystone XL pipeline project ultimately be denied. Should the White House accede to the rising insistence of lesser lawmakers that crude oil be deweaponized before loading, rail will cease to be the existential lifeline for tar sands bitumen.
Fixing Bakken crude is a technically easy matter of applying the same treatment or "stabilization" that is routine for pipeline transport in North Dakota, and for any mode of transport in Texas. However, rendering Canadian bitumen safe for rail carriage is problematic. The alternative to dilution with naptha is heating with steam during loading and unloading—a messy procedure that requires internal steam coils be built into tank cars.
Neither Canada's new tank car spec nor any of those under consideration by the White House includes a requirement for steam coils. Anyway, the steam-heating alternative is impractical on a large scale, given its requirement for extra-cost tank cars constructed specifically for low-value bitumen. Options may not exist at all for synbit, the hydrogen-injected variety of processed bitumen.
Expect the Harper government to intensify the blame it directs at the railroads as it tries to deflect attention away from the explosive goop (it's certainly not natural crude) shipped from Alberta's tar sands.
The government has summoned CN to testify before a parliamentary committee about the causes of this winter's spate of tank car derailments. Track condition, train lengths, and speed will be the focus of government-side interrogators; there will be not a word from Conservative members of parliament about the tar sands industry's intentional spiking of bitumen with naptha and hydrogen.
Perhaps this is Washington's opportunity to regain credible leadership in oil train reform: If Canada can bar DOT-111s at the border, the U.S. could, and should, prohibit spiked bitumen from American rails.
(I suggest this as a patriotic Canadian and proud resident of Alberta who benefits directly from bitumen taxes and royalties. Like most Albertans, I simply don't wish to profit by placing other people and places at unnecessary risk.)
Written by Douglas John Bowen
U.S. intermodal volume for the week ending March 7, 2015 gained ground, ending a three-week slump and aiding overall U.S. freight traffic for the week, the Association of American Railroads said Wednesday, March 11.
U.S. freight carload traffic remained mired in its own slide for a third week, down 2.1% measured against the comparable week in 2014. But U.S. intermodal volume rose 4%, boosting overall U.S. freight traffic to a 0.8% gain.
Just three of the 10 U.S. carload commodity groups AAR tracks on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They were: grain, up 11.5%, farm products, up 10.1%, and chemicals, up 2.7%. By contrast, coal fell 6.5%, petroleum and petroleum products slipped 4.1%, and nonmetallic minerals fell 2.7%.
Both Canada and Mexico sported robust gains for the week ending March 7, 2015, measured against the comparable week in 2014. Canadian freight carload traffic for the week ending March 7 rose solidly, up 9.2%, while Canadian intermodal volume did even better on a percentage basis, up 14.1%. Mexican freight carload traffic also did well, up 10.8% compared with the same week a year ago, while Mexican intermodal rose 19.6%.
Combined North American freight carload traffic for the week ending Mar. 7, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads eked out a 0.6% gain compared with the same week last year. Combined North American intermodal volume of the three NAFTA nations rose 6.2%. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was up 3.2%, AAR said.
Train-vehicle collisions and deaths at grade crossings and from pedestrians trespassing on railroad tracks rose across the United States last year, Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) announced Wednesday.
The national nonprofit rail safety education organization cited preliminary 2014 statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which showed that U.S. crossing collisions increased 8.8 percent to 2,280 in 2014, while crossing fatalities climbed 15.6 percent to 267, said OLI President and Chief Executive Officer Joyce Rose in a press release.
Fatalities caused by people trespassing on railroad tracks and property surged 21.8 percent to 526 last year, Rose said. Trespass injuries dropped 2.8 percent to 419, while injuries that occurred at grade crossings fell 14.4 percent to 832.
The numbers indicate that for 2014, the rail trespass casualty rate — deaths and injuries per million train miles — is 1.23, the highest level in the last decade. The highway rail incident rate — incidents per million train-miles — is 2.98, the highest since 2008, Rose noted.
"Historically, highway-rail grade crossing collisions have dropped greatly in recent decades," Rose said. "While the number of people injured in crossing crashes and pedestrian-train incidents dropped in 2014, the statistics show that challenges remain in our mission to educate a busy, distracted public about the need for caution at train tracks."
States with the most crossing collisions last year were Texas, Illinois, California, Indiana and Georgia. States with the most pedestrian-train casualties (deaths and injuries combined) in 2014 were California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.
Rose said the trend demonstrates the continuing need to raise public awareness through OLI's national "See Tracks, Think Train!" campaign.
"Operation Lifesaver, in partnership with major freight railroads, commuter and light rail systems, state and local law enforcement, and transportation agencies, will be expanding the campaign and developing new educational materials to encourage Americans to make safe decisions around tracks and trains,” she added.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it would host a forum March 24-25 on the dangers of trespassing on railroad rights of way.
NTSB member Robert Sumwalt will chair the forum, titled, "Trains and Trespassing: Ending Tragic Encounters."
The event will feature speakers who have been seriously injured by trains; those whose communities have been affected; and railroad employee assistance program employees whose train crews have struck people on railroad property.
The forum will draw on the expertise of railroads, regulators and researchers to review the diversity of trespassing accidents and incidents and look at current and future prevention strategies, according to an NTSB press release.
Mar 9, 2:46 PM (ET)
HALIFAX, N.C. (AP) — An Amtrak train hit a tractor-trailer that stalled on railroad tracks in North Carolina, toppling the engine onto its side and injuring several people, officials said Monday.
Halifax County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bruce Temple said the accident happened around noon in the town of Halifax.
The first two cars of the train derailed after the collision, Temple said. The North Carolina Department of Transportation said in a news release that the other car that derailed was a baggage car.
Several people were hurt, though the transportation agency said the injuries were minor. The agency also said no deaths were reported.
It was not immediately clear how many people may have been hurt.
Sheriff's Major Scott Hall said from the crash scene that some passengers were taken to a local hospital by ambulance, but others were able to climb aboard a shuttle bus to be taken for examination.
The Amtrak train was the Carolinian, which runs between Charlotte, North Carolina, and New York each day. It was headed north to New York City at the time of the crash.
U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) yesterday introduced the Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act (S. 650), which proposes to extend the federally mandated deadline for positive train control (PTC) implementation by five years from 2015's end to Dec. 31, 2020.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
"We must work to do everything we can to improve train safety and accident prevention without burdening our nation’s freight and passenger rail industry," said Blunt — the bill's lead sponsor — in a press release. "Unmanageable deadlines could result in higher costs and a disruption of service. This bipartisan bill will help ease the positive train control deadline to give railroads ... enough time to fully and safely implement this new technology."
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) — which has stated freight railroads wouldn't be able to meet the impending deadline due to radio tower/communication, technology development and other issues — welcomed the legislation.
"America's freight-rail industry … appreciates the senators' recognition that the existing mandate to have a fully interoperable, nationwide PTC system tested and safely operating by the end of 2015 is simply not possible and must be changed," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger in a statement. "[We] believe the new deadline set by the legislation is a reasonable and responsible extension, and provides the freight- and passenger-rail industries the time needed to fully install, test and approve PTC."
The freight-rail industry has spent $5.2 billion to date on implementation and although progress has been substantial, much remains to be done before PTC can safely operate around the nation, he said.
"This bill provides railroads the time necessary to fully and safely implement PTC without having to navigate an arbitrary and infeasible statutory deadline," said Hamberger.
Just a FYI
Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed by a final vote of 316 to 101, HR 749, the Amtrak Reauthorization bill. Six of seven amendments were agreed to by voice vote. The seventh amendment by Rep. McClintock of California which would have stripped $ 1.4 billion from Amtrak authorizations was defeated by a vote of 272 to 147.
Passage of this bill is a big victory for the American passenger rail program. In addition, the strong bi-partisan support will help passenger rail supporters in the Senate, and eventually when the two chambers resolve their different bills in conference.
The U.S. House yesterday passed a bill that authorizes nearly $8 billion to fund Amtrak over the next four years.
The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA) would keep Amtrak funded at nearly current levels, about $1.4 billion per year, for the next four years. The bill also includes measures aimed at improving the national intercity passenger railroad's financial performance.
"This bill will result in cutting waste, strengthening our infrastructure, and providing better, more cost-effective passenger-rail service for our nation's transportation system," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who introduced the bill along with T&I Ranking Committee Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.); and Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael Capuano (D-Mass).
The bill isn't perfect, but serves as a bipartisan effort that ultimately provides critical investments and system-wide improvements to increase capacity and make railroads safer, said DeFazio in a press release.
Yesterday's vote followed attempts earlier in the week to cut or eliminate funding for Amtrak, but those attempts were rejected.
The bill passed in by a 3016-101 vote, an "overwhelming" margin that demonstrated "that the nation's largest transportation challenges can be met with bipartisan cooperation and problem solving," said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
"We are pleased that the House has endorsed a multi-year investment for Amtrak at a time when the railroad and its workforce are dealing with rising demand and aging equipment and infrastructure. While we will continue to advocate for higher federal funding levels for Amtrak, PRRIA gives Amtrak a measure of certainty as it advances long-term modernization plans," Wytkind said in a prepared statement.
The bill does include an amendment from U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) that calls for the Northeast Corridor Rail Commission to provide Congress a plan to create an "express rail service" in the corridor.
Mica, the former chair of the House T&I Committee, wants the commission to develop a plan to initiate for rail service from Washington, D.C., to New York City in less than two hours, and service from New York to Boston in less than two-and-a-half hours.
A longtime critic of Amtrak, Mica said in a press release that passenger-rail service in the Northeast Corridor "remains a monopoly" … with Amtrak Acela's 68 mph Acela average speed between Boston and New York City and 83 mph Acela average speed from New York City to Washington.
"We need to take Amtrak and this country from a Soviet-style operation into the 21st Century," Mica said. "My amendment helps move us in that direction."
Written by Douglas John Bowen
U.S. freight rail traffic for the week ending Feb. 28, 2015 fell, dragging February's totals down with it, as U.S. freight carload traffic slipped for a second straight week, while U.S. intermodal extended a month-long slide, the Association of American Railroads reported Wednesday, March 4. AAR cited weather woes and port-related problems for much of the slide.
U.S. freight carload traffic for the week fell 7% measured against the comparable week in 2014, and ending a spurt of strength from the sector in recent weeks. U.S. intermodal volume fell again, down 6.3%. Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week declined 6.7% compared with the same week a year ago.
Just three of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked by the AAR on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2014, led by petroleum and petroleum products, up 6.5%, grain, 7p 3.8%, and motor vehicles and parts, up 2%. Declining commodities included metallic ores and metals, down 13.2%, coal, down 12.4%, and nonmetallic minerals, down 10.9%.
Canadian freight carload volume for the week ending Feb. 28, by contrast, gained 8.9%, while Canadian intermodal volume also fared well, up 4% when measured against the comparable week in 2014. Mexican freight carload traffic fell 3.1%, but Mexican intermodal volume for the week rose 2.3%.
Combined North American freight carload traffic for the week ending Feb. 28, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 3.9% compared with the same week last year. Combined North American intermodal volume fell 4.3%.
Total U.S. freight carload traffic for February sustained a 1.1% decline when measured against traffic in February 2014, while total U.S. intermodal volume for the month declined 6.5%. Total U.S. freight rail traffic for the mo th was off 3.6% from a year ago.
"The problems at West Coast ports clearly had an impact on rail traffic in February. Bad weather in the East and Midwest didn't help," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "It's not possible to quantify the impact of these factors precisely. However, economic fundamentals remain mostly positive, so railroads are expecting significant traffic improvements in March."
SB164 and Updates
As we expected Gov. Brownback and his allies have convinced House leadership from taking up our 2 man bill. The carriers pulled out all the stops including flying CEO of BNSF Matt Rose up to have a conversation with the governor. For now our bill will not move and is dead.
What this means. We will begin to lay groundwork in the house, because of the great committee hearings and your letters and calls, this has become an issue that many legislators are committed to. While we were working the Senate many House members shown interest in introducing the same type of legislation next session. If we can introduce companion bills in the House and Senate next session our odds go up getting it to the Governor’s desk.
What can we do to sway the governor? I will continue to build coalitions all across Kansas the rest of the year. It is my goal to have every city that has a rail terminal sign letters of intent to support SB164. I will continue to lobby municipalities, counties and emergency response agencies to join our cause. Along with community outreach and public service announcements we will begin a legislative conference of two man supporters amongst current and potential legislators.
Legislation of this type typically takes years to get signed into law. We have some revisions that have to be made in our current bill that will increase support, such as citing the enforcement agency (this could be a gateway to a separate rail division in KDOT, but that's another conversation).
Although we did not get our 2man bill to the governor’s desk we do have good news, because staunch conservative interest were tied up fighting us on two man legislation and other labor issues. We have not seen attacks on private sector unions. For once we were on the offensive. However, strong republican leadership continues its fight against public sector unions (teachers’ police firefighters….) there has been a compromise on some bills though
We’re just at the halfway point in the legislature and a lot can change but that’s where we’re at. Of note I was on a conference call earlier and it sounds like California, North Dakota, Utah and Washington all have a good shot at two man legislation. Thanks to all those SLDs’s and their members as well. Our DC office says the immense pressure we (the states) have put on two man legislation has been very helpful towards our priority goal of having a NATIONAL two man bill.
On a national note as soon as tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 749, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015. Please contact your representative in Congress to ask that they support this bill. This bipartisan bill authorizes approximately $1.7 billion annually to fund Amtrak and includes reforms to improve transparency and accountability. Please ask your U.S. Representative to vote “yes” on H.R. 749. To look up contact information for your Representative, click here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Tomorrow is municipal primary voting. GO VOTE!
Thank You Brothers, our work does not stop let’s keep fighting!
United Transportation Union - SMART
Kansas Legislative Director
523 SW VanBuren Suite 100
Topeka, Kansas 66603
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