Oil train inspections uncover 84 defects, some critical

The Legislative Gazette | April 27, 2015 | Column by Keith J. Ferrante

Another round of crude oil tank car and rail inspections has ended, with more than 80 defects found.

More than 80 defects were found in the latest round of inspections by the New York state Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration. Inspections focused on railcars, safety equipment and approximately 30 miles of track in upstate areas. The inspections were part of an ongoing effort by the state to make sure oil trains traveling across the state are in good repair. Photo by AP.

State and federal investigators from the New York state Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration checked 855 crude oil tank cars and about 30 miles of track in the latest round of inspections which took place between April 13 and 17.

Investigators examined hardware at railyards in Buffalo, Albany and Selkirk; and the tracks between Ulster and Orange Counties and also between Montgomery and Schenectady Counties as well as within the city of Kingston. The inspections focused on tracks, track hardware and tank car mechanical safety equipment.

Critical defects which were found on tracks included items such as gauge, tie plate and bolt defects.

Non-critical defects on tracks included worn or missing bolts, insufficient rail fasteners, a loose rail brace and a cracked switch component.

Inspections on the railcars uncovered two critical defects for fittings not being tool-tightened, resulting in shipper violations being issued. 

Railcars were affected with non-critical defects including thin brake shoes, a shelled wheel, loose or missing bolts and joints, loose safety railings and sill steps, a missing coupler knuckle pin top which helps couple railcars together and other items related to the wheels and brakes.

Hazardous materials inspections were also carried out to make sure hardware is compliant with regulations, including things such as valves, valve closures, and placards that describe the cargo being shipped.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hailed the inspections and he also called on the federal government to issue new, strict guidelines regarding the trains.

"These inspections are part of this administration's ongoing commitment to keep New Yorkers safe and ensure that crude oil cars and rail tracks that run through our state are kept in good repair," the governor said. "As New York continues to thoroughly inspect these cars and facilities, I am also calling on our federal partners to implement strong, standardized safety measures that impact all crude oil rail carriers in the United States. Together we can ensure that all issues are identified and resolved quickly, and that public safety is protected nationwide."

Critical defects signify important maintenance issues that need to be addressed immediately, but do not necessarily mean there are safety lapses.

Non-critical rail defects are required to be repaired within 30 days, whereas all tank car defects must be fixed before the train leaves the railyard. If that is not possible, the affected car will be extracted from the train for repair. 

Last year, Cuomo ordered state agencies to conduct a review of safety procedures and emergency response plans related to the shipment of crude oil across the state following several accidents in the United States and Canada involving oil-carrying trains traveling through residential areas. The subsequent report contained numerous recommendations regarding how to reduce the risk associated with the transport of crude oil, with the tank car inspections playing a major role. 

Sandy Steubing, spokeswoman for People of Albany United for Safe Energy, said the increased inspections will not increase safety. She also called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to take action to stop the oil trains from travelling through the area.

"It is tantamount to a cover-up when the governor's administration can and should stop all crude-by-rail from coming into New York state," Steubing said. "DEC Commissioner Martens has the authority to do this through the Environmental Conservation Law by declaring summary abatement due to the imminent hazard of these trains."  


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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.