Inspectors find more oil train defects

Times Union | July 22, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

Kenwood Yard at Albany port hit with 10 safety violations in latest sweep

Oil train cars in the Port of Albany on Wednesday April 22, 2015 in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union)

Rail inspectors who check oil tanker cars and the tracks that carry them returned to the Kenwood Yard at the Port of Albany for the seventh time in little more than a year, where they found more than a dozen minor defects in either tracks or tanker cars.

In this case, inspectors found 10 "non-critical safety defects, including loose or missing bolts and cotter pins and an insecure switch point," and three tanker cars with violations including "thin brake shoes and a defective air hose and hose valve," according to a news release Wednesday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Since state and federal inspectors first visited the Canadian Pacific-owned Kenwood Yard at the Port of Albany in March 2014 on the launch of Cuomo's statewide "blitz" on oil train safety, 170 safety violations either in tanker cars or tracks have been uncovered, although all cases have been deemed "non-critical."

On Wednesday, Transportation Department spokeswoman Carol Breen said such continued violations at Kenwood are not a cause for concern. "When we inspect, we can be pretty certain we are going to find some violations. It is not possible to keep the tracks and tankers in perfect condition at all times," she said.

"But we are finding fewer and fewer defects each time we visit, so the company is really paying attention to maintenance," Breen added. "They know that we are going to be coming."

The Kenwood inspections have been part of a statewide inspection push ordered in February 2014 by Cuomo as concerns mounted over a surge of massive crude oil trains from the Midwest coming through New York state and Albany. The crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota is more volatile than traditional crude oil, and prone to explode if tanker cars puncture during derailments.

Such an explosion killed 47 people in the Quebec town of Lac Megantic in July 2013 when brakes failed on an oil train that had been parked outside of the town for the night.

CP spokesman Andy Cummings said the most recent safety violations at Kenwood were "typical of the wear and tear that can emerge with the passage of trains. Railcar components such as brake shoes and air hoses can wear while in transit, which is why we regularly conduct such inspections and make repairs as necessary."

Since the statewide rail inspections started, state and federal officials have examined more than 10,300 rail cars (including 8,362 crude oil tank cars) and nearly 3,400 miles of track, and written up 1,279 defects, according to DOT.

The most recent safety inspections — which covered 524 tankers and approximately 152 miles of tracks — found 62 defects. The latest inspections also included the massive rail yard in Selkirk, Albany County, that is owned by the CSX rail company. There, inspectors examined 105 tanker cars and found no defects.

Inspectors also examined CSX-owned trail tracks in the Capital Region, including:

— Rotterdam in Schenectady County to Fonda in Montgomery County, where 23 non-critical defects were found on 39 miles of track.

— Selkirk in Albany County to Milton, Ulster County, where a "critical defect" — a missing bolt on a welded rail joint — was repaired immediately. Another non-critical defect was also found along the 64 miles of track.

Inspectors also examined the Frontier Yard in Buffalo, Erie County, and the Buffalo & Pittsburgh-owned D&E Yard in Buffalo.

Non-critical rail defects must be repaired within 30 days, while all tank car defects must be fixed before the train departs the yard. If that is not possible, the affected car will be pulled from the train to await repair.

Also on Wednesday, the Federal Railroad Administration told freight railroads that they must continue to comply with a May 2014 emergency order that requires the railroads to notify state emergency officials of the expected movement of Bakken crude oil trains.

The notification rules apply to trains with more than 1 million of Bakken crude oil, which is approximately 35 tank cars.

The FRA said it intends to make the order permanent.

bnearing@timesunion.com • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.