Oil trains keep on rolling

Times Union | April 7, 2015 | Column by Eric Anderson

Crude traffic was down in March by 7% nationwide, but not in Albany

Rail tanker cars are moved from the yard at the Port of Albany Tuesday, April 7, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. (Skip Dickstein/Times Union)


Crude oil train traffic in March was down 7 percent nationwide from year-earlier levels, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

But in the Capital Region, a spokeswoman for People of Albany United for Safe Energy said her group hasn't noticed any slowdown in oil train traffic at the Port of Albany.

Sandy Steubing of PAUSE said trains are still flowing into the port, where oil is transferred to barges, oceangoing tankers and to other trains for shipment to refineries up and down the East Coast.

She added that a 7 percent drop in train traffic wouldn't make the shipments measurably safer.

"They'd have to cut back 99 percent before we were safer," Steubing said.

The decline in crude was blamed on lower oil prices, which are squeezing margins and making it less expensive to import crude oil from overseas.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which hands off oil trains to CSX for their trip to the Port of Albany and other East Coast destinations, said it's averaging about nine trains a day currently, compared to as many as 10 a day last year, according to the report.

The Port of Albany has become a major transshipment point for the Bakken crude from North Dakota's shale oil fields, with both Canadian Pacific Railway and CSX Transportation delivering oil trains to the Capital Region.

The decline in train traffic comes as the National Transportation Safety Board late Monday called for tougher standards for oil tanker cars. The newer CPC-1232 design, which was thought to be safer than the DOT-111 tankers, has failed in several recent derailments. With Bakken more explosive than traditional crude, the derailments have led to explosions and fires.

In the worst of those derailments, 47 people died in July 2013 when a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

"We can't wait a decade for safer rail cars," NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said. "Crude oil rail traffic is increasing exponentially. That is why this issue is on our Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements. The industry needs to make this issue a priority and expedite the safety enhancements, otherwise, we continue to put our communities at risk."

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who's advocated for stronger rail cars, backed the NTSB stand.

"NTSB's recommendations for improving tank car safety are right on the money. The NTSB is our nation's premier, independent safety agency and when they make recommendations for how to make crude oil transport by rail safer, everyone should listen," he said. "With NTSB adding their voice to the chorus of those of us who have long been calling for new safety rules, it just proves that this train has left the station and it's long past time for DOT and OMB to get on board by issuing a tough new tank car standard immediately."

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Oil trains keep on rolling
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.