Union Pacific's week of infrastructure reveals continues with plans to perform $51.5 million in work on the railroad's Wyoming infrastructure.
In the past week, Union Pacific has revealed $449 million worth of work to take place in Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Union Pacific says these private investments will enhance employee, community and customer safety and increase rail operating efficiency.
Union Pacific's planned Wyoming investment covers a range of initiatives: nearly $48 million to maintain railroad track, more than $3 million to enhance signal systems and nearly $700,000 to maintain or replace bridges in the state. Key projects planned this year include:
This year's planned $51.5 million capital expenditure in Wyoming is part of an ongoing investment strategy. From 2010 to 2014 Union Pacific invested $430 million strengthening Wyoming's transportation infrastructure.
"We constantly evaluate our customers' needs to make targeted investments that enhance our efficiency and deliver the goods American businesses and families use daily," said Donna Kush, Union Pacific vice president - Public Affairs, Northern Region. "Continuing to aggressively invest in our infrastructure is an important element in Union Pacific's unwavering safety commitment."
Union Pacific plans to spend $4.2 billion across its network this year, following investments totaling more than $31 billion from 2005-2014. These investments contributed to a 38 percent decrease in derailments over the last 10 years.
BNSF was one of three companies that will work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on a Pathfinder research partnership initiative to explore the next steps in unmanned aircraft operations.
In March, BNSF was granted permission by the FAA to begin patrolling its track with small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The exemption grants BNSF operation of approved aircraft at speeds not to exceed 50 knots. The UAS can only be used to monitor "BNSF owned or controlled railroad infrastructure and operations" and must remain below 400 feet.
FAA cited safety gains in its authorization allowing BNSF use of UAS, writing, "this...may also help to reduce injuries to employees on the ground by allowing for remote aerial review rather that requiring them to climb over or onto track structures in remote areas."
The railroad's recently announced partnership with FAA will "explore the challenges of using these vehicles to inspect [its] rail infrastructure beyond visual line-of-sight in isolated areas."
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta explains the Pathfinder research partnership in a post on the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Fast Lane" blog, "Earlier this year, we took an important step forward by releasing a proposed rule that laid out a flexible framework for the routine use of small unmanned aircraft. It included a number of common sense provisions like not flying near airports, at night, or more than 500 feet off the ground. It also recommended requiring the operator to be able to see the unmanned vehicle at all times --that's our line-of-sight requirement. We received more than 4,000 public comments on the proposal, and we're working to address those before finalizing the rule.
"But this takes time, so we're actively looking for other ways to expand the use of unmanned aircraft in the meantime. We're receiving valuable information from our six national test sites. And we're accommodating requests for some commercial operations, with 250 such requests approved.
"Because the U.S. has the busiest, most complex airspace in the world, the job of integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace is a big one, and we're determined to get it right. The valuable data we anticipate from the three Pathfinder trials will help us do just that."
In addition to BNSF, CNN and PrecisionHawk make up the trio of companies included in the new partnership with FAA.
One need not look to the wild blue yonder to find the BNSF air force. Soon, it will be patrolling BNSF tracks from altitudes no higher than 500 feet, but not within three miles of any airport and always during daylight hours. Such are the restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in granting BNSF authority March 12 to operate lighter than 55-pound drones—unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as they are formally known. So far, BNSF—which was a pioneer in the design of Positive Train Control (PTC)—is the only railroad that has sought such FAA authority.
BNSF said it will use four versions of the drones, equipped with cameras, to inspect its track and monitor its trains. Other applications will be investigated.
An official of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), asking not to be identified, said SMART conductors could have claimed work associated with BNSF drone operations, but lost the opportunity when they voted down a tentative agreement with BNSF last year that focused solely on PTC. The agreement specifically mentioned drones as within the scope of work reserved for SMART-represented conductors.
That failed contract would have allowed BNSF, as part of a pilot project, to create a Master Conductor craft to monitor, for safety compliance, trains equipped with PTC. The monitoring was to be done from a fixed or mobile location rather than aboard trains. Such trains would operate locomotive-engineer-only.
Where such operations were commenced, BNSF would have fully protected affected conductors from furlough, and promoted many to the new craft of Master Conductor. The failed contract also would have assured all ground service workers represented by SMART higher pay and career income protection.
The union’s National Legislative Office led the effort to defeat the tentative agreement, telling affected conductors that members of Congress would provide a better protection package as PTC and other technologies are introduced. After the tentative agreement was voted down, one of the two congressional sponsors of the legislation was defeated at the polls. The legislation never received a committee hearing, and was declared dead-on-arrival by the Republican congressional leadership should it be reintroduced.
The union’s National Legislative Office also promised that Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, a former SMART predecessor-union official, would bring forth a rule prohibiting railroads from reducing crew size even where PTC is in place. Szabo resigned in early 2015, the rule has yet to be published, and railroad attorneys say it likely would not stand judicial challenge as there is no data demonstrating such a rule would improve rail safety.
When remote control technology was introduced more than a decade ago, the United Transportation Union—now SMART’s Transportation Division—told members that new technology cannot be obstructed, but can be managed with innovative labor agreements. The UTU then negotiated such an agreement that reserved remote control work within yards and terminals for UTU-represented members, along with higher pay and income protection.
SMART currently has contracts in place assuring two-person crews, but those contracts are nearing expiration as they are decades old and keyed to the retirement of employees affected when the contracts were signed. Within the next decade there will be no contract protection for conductor assignments.
With those agreements in their twilight, and no federal legislation or federal rule to protect conductor work in the future, SMART has obtained from some state legislatures prohibitions on one-person crews in those states. Were the laws to become effective with the expiration of the labor protection agreements just mentioned, Congress could step in to make federal law permitting one-person crews preeminent (under provisions of the Constitution’s 10th Amendment). The reason would be to block the efficiency-scotching nature—the impediment to interstate commerce—of such checkerboard pattern state laws.
For the present, BNSF conductors, having voted down the tentative agreement that would have reserved for them work associated with drone operation, have no claim to such jobs. As they are created, those jobs will be up for grabs by the first labor union to capture them through a labor agreement. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen already has a clause in its agreements with BNSF to capture remote control work outside yards and terminals should remote control operations be expanded.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are on the scene today of a BNSF Railway Co. crude-oil train that derailed and caught fire yesterday morning in Heimdal, N.D.
The BNSF train consisted of 109 total cars, 107 of which were loaded with crude oil. Two buffer cars were loaded with sand. Six of the crude oil cars derailed at about 7:30 a.m., resulting in a fire and the town's evacuation. All other cars were pulled away from the scene to a safe distance. No injuries were reported, according to a statement issued by BNSF.
The tank cars involved in the incident were the unjacketed CPC-1232 models, which are among the tank-car models slated for retrofits or phasing out under new federal rules governing the safety of crude-by-rail transportation.
The FRA deployed a 10-person investigation team to the site. FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said the incident "is yet another reminder of why we issued a significant, comprehensive rule aimed at improving the safe transport of high hazard flammable liquids."
"The FRA will continue to look at all options available to us to improve safety and mitigate risks," Feinberg said in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, eight U.S. senators yesterday sent a letter urging U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to immediately enact stronger disclosure requirements regarding shipments of Bakken crude oil. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced new regulations last week that included requiring railroads to share information on the shipment of crude oil with emergency responders.
"We call upon you to issue an emergency order that improves the process for providing detailed information on crude-by-rail movements and volumes to first responders, shifts the onus for information sharing onto the railroads and not communities, and allows for the continued public availability of broader crude-by-rail data on movements and routes,” the senators wrote.
"The final rule constitutes a setback on disclosure requirements that could hamper our first responders and negatively impact the safety of our communities. We urge you to promptly address these shortfalls, and look forward to your response,” the senators continued.
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Starting in June, all U.S. Class Is, commuter railroads and Amtrak will have to tell the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) what their plans are to assist employees who experience "critical incident stress" on the job.
A new FRA rule will require the railroads to have plans in place to help employees — such as a train engineer involved in a fatal train-pedestrian accident — recover from stress that may result from the situation.
While many large railroads say they've long had critical incident stress plans, the FRA rule also defines what constitutes a critical incident and outlines who should be covered by the plans and what they include in terms of counseling or other assistance. To learn more about what the rule requires and what railroads are doing to assist employees click the link below.
Rule Will Make Significant and Extensive Changes to Improve Accident Prevention, Mitigation, and Emergency Response
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced a final rule for the safe transportation of flammable liquids by rail. The final rule, developed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in coordination with Canada, focuses on safety improvements that are designed to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences in the event of an accident, and support emergency response.
“Safety has been our top priority at every step in the process for finalizing this rule, which is a significant improvement over the current regulations and requirements and will make transporting flammable liquids safer,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Our close collaboration with Canada on new tank car standards is recognition that the trains moving unprecedented amounts of crude by rail are not U.S. or Canadian tank cars – they are part of a North American fleet and a shared safety challenge.”
“This stronger, safer, more robust tank car will protect communities on both sides of our shared border,” said Minister Raitt. “Through strong collaboration we have developed a harmonized solution for North America’s tank car fleet. I am hopeful that this kind of cooperation will be a model for future Canada-U.S. partnership on transportation issues.”
Other federal agencies are also working to make transporting flammable liquids safer. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE), in coordination with the White House, are pursuing strategies to improve safety. DOE recently developed an initiative designed to research and characterize tight and conventional crude oils based on key chemical and physical properties, and to identify properties that may contribute to increased likelihood and/or severity of combustion events that can arise during handling and transport.
This final rule represents the latest, and most significant to date, in a series of nearly 30 actions that DOT has initiated over the last nineteen months, including additional emergency orders, safety advisories and other actions.
Additional information about the rule:
(Unless stated otherwise, the rule applies to “high-hazard flammable trains” (HHFTs)—a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.).
Enhanced Standards for New and Existing Tank Cars for use in an HHFT--New tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015, are required to meet the new DOT Specification 117 design or performance criteria. The prescribed car has a 9/16 inch tank shell, 11 gauge jacket, 1/2 inch full-height head shield, thermal protection, and improved pressure relief valves and bottom outlet valves. Existing tank cars must be retrofitted with the same key components based on a prescriptive, risk-based retrofit schedule (see table). As a result of the aggressive, risk-based approach, the final rule will require replacing the entire fleet of DOT-111 tank cars for Packing Group I, which covers most crude shipped by rail, within three years and all non-jacketed CPC-1232s, in the same service, within approximately five years.
Enhanced Braking to Mitigate Damage in Derailments--The rule requires HHFTs to have in place a functioning two-way end-of-train (EOT) device or a distributed power (DP) braking system. Trains meeting the definition of a “high-hazard flammable unit train,” or HHFUT (a single train with 70 or more tank cars loaded with Class 3 flammable liquids), with at least one tank car with Packing Group I materials, must be operated with an electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking system by January 1, 2021. All other HHFUTs must have ECP braking systems installed after 2023. This important, service-proven technology has been operated successfully for years in certain services in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.
Reduced Operating Speeds--The rule restricts all HHFTs to 50 mph in all areas and HHFTs containing any tank cars not meeting the enhanced tank car standards required by this rule are restricted to operating at a 40 mph speed restriction in high-threat urban areas. The 40 mph restriction for HHFTs without new or retrofitted tank cars is also currently required under FRA’s Emergency Order No. 30.
Rail Routing – More Robust Risk Assessment--Railroads operating HHFTs must perform a routing analysis that considers, at a minimum, 27 safety and security factors, including “track type, class, and maintenance schedule” and “track grade and curvature,” and select a route based on its findings. These planning requirements are prescribed in 49 CFR §172.820.
Rail Routing – Improves Information Sharing--Ensures that railroads provide State and/or regional fusion centers, and State, local and tribal officials with a railroad point of contact for information related to the routing of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions. This replaces the proposed requirement for railroads to notify State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) or other appropriate state-designated entities about the operation of these trains through their States.
More Accurate Classification of Unrefined Petroleum-Based Products--Offerors must develop and carry out sampling and testing programs for all unrefined petroleum-based products, such as crude oil, to address the criteria and frequency of sampling to improve and ensure accuracy. Offerors must certify that hazardous materials subject to the program are packaged in accordance with the test results, document the testing and sampling program outcomes, and make that information available to DOT personnel upon request.
The actions taken today address several recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board, including: requiring enhanced safety features for tank cars carrying ethanol and crude oil and an aggressive schedule to replace or retrofit existing tank cars; requiring thermal protection and high-capacity pressure relieve valves for tank cars in flammable liquid service, expanding hazardous materials route planning and selection requirements for trains transporting flammable liquids; inspecting shippers to ensure crude oil is properly classified and requiring shippers to sufficiently test and document both physical and chemical characteristics of hazardous materials; and providing a vehicle for reporting the number of cars retrofitted.
You can view a summary of the rule here and the entire rulehere. For additional information on the steps the Department of Transportation has already taken to help strengthen the safe transport of crude oil by rail, please visit www.dot.gov/mission/safety/rail-chronology.
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