Friday, June 5, 2015

DOT-117 final specifications; Plumas Co alarmed at derailment possibilities

DOT-117 defined

Written by  David Thomas, Contributing Editor     June 5, 2015      Railway Age
The wait for a new tank car specification is over. Now comes the “fun” part: Retrofits to older cars, and potentially onerous operating rules.

The final spec for the now-official DOT-117 (TC-117 in Canada) non-pressurized tank car adopts the most demanding of the technical requirements first offered for comment in the notice of rulemaking: jacketed and thermally insulated shells of 9/16-inch steel, full-height half-inch-thick head shields, sturdier, re-closeable pressure relief valves, and rollover protection for top fittings.

Of most concern to carbuilders and buyers is the tight timeline for the retrofitting or retirement of existing DOT-111s and the newer industry-sponsored CPC-1232 cars constructed since 2011, before the 2013 disaster at Lac-Mégantic forced regulators to finally heed years of warnings by accident investigators in the U.S. and Canada. Those “good faith” cars now need to be upgraded to meet DOT-117 standards by May 1, 2025.

The phaseout/retrofit schedule will see unjacketed DOT-111s removed from the most-volatile Packing Group I crude oil service by January 2018, jacketed DOT-111s by March 2018, unjacketed CPC-1232s by April 2020. For Packing Group II, jacketed and non-jacketed DOT-111s may remain in service until May 2023, non-jacketed CPC-1232s until July 2023, and jacketed CPC-1232s until May 2025.

To enforce the timeline, the regulations require stricter testing and classification of crude oil offered for transport.

The regulatory package is to be enforced by the USDOT’s sibling regulators, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Cost of fleet renewal is estimated by regulators to be about $1.7 billion. Total costs for the entire regulatory package, including train routing and speed restrictions, is projected to be $2.5 billion......   more here

Spilled corn covers a hillside in the Feather River canyon after a derailment

Plumas Co. Grand Jury: Scathing indictment of hazardous material transportation through Feather River Canyon

June 5, 2015  Plumas County News

[Roger Straw comments:  This Grand Jury report is thorough and well written - an excellent resource and alarming in its analysis.  Its findings and recommendations (near the end of the report) might be a valuable resource for communities everywhere.  There are a number of references to "after-action reports."   Question for our research: how can concerned citizens obtain such reports?]

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of midterm reports submitted by the 2014-15 Plumas County Civil Grand Jury.

Early in the morning Nov. 25, 2014, a Union Pacific freight train derailed in the Feather River Canyon just east of Belden, sending 11 railcars full of corn off the tracks and down the steep embankment. In a press statement shortly afterward, a State Office of Emergency Services official was quoted as saying, “We dodged a bullet” because the train was only carrying corn.

Based on a rash of recent derailments and spills of hazardous materials happening throughout the United States and Canada, “a bullet” in fact grossly underestimates the potential devastation, magnitude and scope of the consequences left from these horrific incidents. Luckily, it was only corn that spilled. With the recent surge in crude-by-rail domestic crude oil transports between oil fields in North Dakota, Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania and Bay Area refineries through the Feather River Canyon, the aftermath could have wrought far-reaching disaster had it been the high-flammable Bakken crude in the tanker cars.

According to sources, the number of crude-by-rail trains passing through the Feather River Canyon has tripled in number within the past three years. With developments in hydraulic fracking technology coming about in domestic oil fields, the petroleum market has seen a profound shift from importing foreign oil to extracting it in domestic oil fields in the United States. As a result, thousands of jobs have been created and oil prices have plummeted since this recent boon in domestic oil production. In addition, other hazardous chemicals are transported throughout the United States by rail and by truck. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, only the railroads are required to know what’s in the cars they’re shipping.

The grand jury found it extremely important to examine the recent corn derailment other recent crude-by-rail disasters in the U.S. and Canada to determine whether Plumas County agencies and private transportation operators are adequately prepared in “worst-case” scenarios. In respect to the Plumas County corn derailment, because the corn was relatively harmless and could be immediately dealt with without invoking hazardous material protocols, local, state and railroad officials and crews did an excellent job in containment of the spill and clearing and repairing the tracks within the impact area.

As a result of a quick and well-coordinated response, the Feather River Canyon rail route was restored and passing rail traffic three days after the initial derailment. Nonetheless, the grand jury has found the incident to be a practical review for a county hazardous material spill and useful opportunity to compare and contrast the corn spill with other recent more disastrous spills. Plumas County did indeed “dodge the bullet,” and from this incident the grand jury believes it will provide valuable findings and recommendations which may in turn act as a catalyst and cast fresh perspectives and insights on dealing with future potential spills and hazardous material disasters.......  continued here


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