Cuomo announces results of rail car, track inspections

Times Union | May 1, 2014 | Column by Casey Seiler

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put out the results of a new round of targeted inspections of freight rail cars and track as an accident in Virginia heightened awareness of the increase in crude oil shipment.

Tanker rail cars are seen on tracks near Interstate 787. (Paul Buckowski, Times Union)

The inspection covered nearly 700 tank cars and 152 miles of track across upstate. In the Capital Region:

  • At the Kenwood Yard in Albany, inspectors examined 120 DOT-111 tank cars for mechanical defects, 80 carrying crude oil and 40 carrying ethanol. The inspection found five defects including one wheel defect and four worn brake shoes. On April 23, hazardous materials inspectors from the FRA and PHMSA examined 204 DOT-111 crude oil cars and found two defects, including one improper placard and one unattached lower outlet valve cover chain.
  • At the Selkirk Rail Yard in Albany County, inspectors examined 103 DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil for mechanical issues and found no defects. On April 24, hazardous materials inspectors from the FRA and PHMSA examined 185 DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil and discovered five defects. Two defects involved lock pins for lower outlet levers that were not applied; two improper placards; and a broken safety chain for a lower outlet cap.

Cuomo this week sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for “immediate federal action to replace outdated and dangerous crude oil tank cars.”

From Cuomo’s release:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced another round of targeted inspections of freight rail cars and track across New York State to ensure compliance with safety regulations for transporting crude oil through the State. The inspections, which covered nearly 700 tank cars and 152 miles of track across upstate New York, found numerous incidents of defective, broken or missing mechanical equipment and placards.

The inspections were completed on the same day that Governor Cuomo urged President Obama to take immediate federal action to replace outdated and dangerous crude oil tank cars. The Governor also sent the President the State’s comprehensive crude oil transportation report, which was recently completed in accordance with an executive order issued by the Governor in January. The report, which was put together by five State agencies, details ten critical federal recommendations and presents a package of state administrative, regulatory and legislative actions related to the transportation of crude oil by rail. Shortly after the Governor’s letter to the President, yet another crude oil train derailed and exploded in Lexington, Virginia, underscoring the urgency of the Governor’s call to action.

“New York State is not waiting for another potentially disastrous crude oil accident to take action and protect our communities,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our administration is continuing aggressive inspections of rail yards and tracks across the State, and we are heightening our preparedness through emergency drills and exercises. At the same time, I have urged our federal partners to overhaul safety regulations for the transport of crude oil, and will continue to push for these important changes. New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”

On Wednesday, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) completed a third series of targeted inspections at rail yards in the Capital Region and Western New York, as well as track inspections through nine counties, from Erie to Montgomery, of CSX’s mainline, which is a crude oil route. Inspectors performed a mechanical inspection of DOT-111 tank cars, examining brakes and other safety equipment. In NYSDOT inspection blitzes in February and March, numerous issues were found, including defective equipment, broken rails and non-compliant tank cars.

Last week, inspectors from the FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) performed hazardous materials inspections of tank cars in Albany and Selkirk. These inspections ensure equipment is in line with regulations, including valves, valve closures, and placards and decals that describe the cargo being shipped, as well as checking dates for the last tank inspection and pressure test.

NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said, “Ensuring public safety is our number one priority, and inspection blitzes such as this help us discover and remove hazards before disaster happens. Governor Cuomo is leading the way in rail safety across New York State and we will continue to work with our federal partners to enforce standards for crude oil shipments.”

Rail Inspection Findings

The latest inspections were conducted at the Kenwood Rail Yard in Albany, the Selkirk Rail Yard in southern Albany County, and the Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, and along 152 miles of CSX mainline track between Fonda and Alden.

… Western New York Inspections

At the CSX Frontier Yard in Buffalo, inspectors examined 105 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars and found one mechanical defect, for a missing handrail bolt. FRA inspectors issued two violations to CSX for defects on two locomotives, including an ineffective handbrake which was past its required re-test date; and an expired date for re-calibration of the head-end box, which monitors air pressure for the braking system. Both defects were repaired before the train left the yard. On Wednesday, FRA hazardous materials inspectors examined 150 DOT-111 crude oil cars and found 11 defects with placards, which were damaged or worn. The FRA also issued a violation to shipping company ETC Endure Energy of Kansas, for a missing bolt on the manway access to the tank hatch area.

Track Inspections

NYSDOT inspectors also examined 152 miles of CSX mainline track in three segments from Fonda (Montgomery County) to Alden (Erie County). NYSDOT inspectors were accompanied by CSX for this inspection.

Fonda to Oriskany (Oneida County) (62 miles): Inspectors found 10 non-critical defects including loose and missing bolts at switch points; and loose rail spikes on a short segment of track.

Oriskany to Camillus (Onondaga County) (50 miles): Inspectors found one critical rail defect at a switch point, which required a 10 mph speed restriction. CSX immediately repaired the defect and the speed restriction was lifted. Inspectors also found 13 non-critical rail defects, including loose or missing bolts at switch points. They also found ten locations where the rail bed exhibited minor fouling, with wet mud coming up through the rock ballast.

Chili (Monroe County) to Alden (40 miles): Inspectors found 12 non-critical defects at switch points including loose bolts at guide rails, adjustable braces and switch point stops.

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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.