Record number of oil train spills in 2014

Daily Kos | January 29, 2015 | Post by Jen Hayden

2014 was a record-breaking year in many ways. Not only was it the hottest year on record, it also saw a a new record for oil train spills:

The record number of spills sparked a fireball in Virginia, polluted groundwater in Colorado, and destroyed a building in Pennsylvania, causing at least $5 million in damages and the loss of 57,000 gallons of crude oil.

By volume, that's dramatically less crude than trains spilled in 2013, when major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota leached a record 1.4 million gallons -- more than was lost in the prior 40 years combined. But by frequency of spills, 2014 set a new high with 141 "unintentional releases," according to data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). By comparison, between 1975 and 2012, U.S. railroads averaged just 25 spills a year.

attribution: Roy Luck Odds are one of these antiquated tankers are going down a railway near you.
Although less crude oil was actually spilled, the increase in spills highlights a huge, known problem with the outdated, leaky tankers:
But the type of general-service tank car involved in recent incidents with crude oil trains in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota – the DOT-111-A – has a poor safety record with hazardous cargoes that goes back decades, raising questions about why it took so long for the railroad industry and its federal regulators to address a problem they knew how to fix.
That's right. This has been a known problem for decades.
“The inadequacy of the protection provided by DOT-111A tank cars for certain dangerous products has been evident for many years,” the NTSB wrote the Federal Railroad Administration in a letter dated July 1, 1991.

Two weeks later, a Southern Pacific train came off the tracks in a sharp curve at Cantara Loop, near Dunsmuir, Calif. A DOT-111A tank car leaked 19,000 gallons of metam sodium into the Sacramento River from a relatively small puncture. That outcome could possibly been improved by installing a half-inch-thick shield over each car’s end, or head, a location vulnerable to punctures.

Many of these types of tankers have been on the rails for ages:
The original DOT-111 tank car was designed in the 1960s. Its safety flaws were pointed out in the early '90s, but more than 200,000 are still in service, with about 78,000 carrying crude oil and other flammable liquids. The DOT-111 tank car's design flaws "create an unacceptable public risk," Deborah Hersman, then chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, testified at a Senate hearing in April. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has compared the car to "a ticking time bomb." While the rail industry has voluntarily rolled out about 14,000 stronger tank cars, about 78,000 of the older DOT-111s remain in service. Retrofitting them would cost an estimated $1 billion.
There seems to be 1 billion reasons why they haven't been regulated more stringently.

The Department of Transportation has been tasked with finalizing new rules for these types of tankers, but progress is slow-going:

On January 15 the Department of Transportation missed a deadline set by Congress for final rules related to tank cars, which have a decades-long history of leaks, punctures, and catastrophic failure. The rules are being worked on by PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

In response to questions from NBC News, PHMSA declined to explain the delay in new rules but it defended the relative safety of oil-by-rail. "More crude is being transported across the country than in any time in our history, and we are aggressively developing new safety standards to keep communities safe," PHMSA spokesperson Susan Lagana said in a statement.

It's well past time for the Department of Transportation to act in the interest of public safety.

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@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2015-02-02 23:32:46 -0500
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Record number of oil train spills in 2014
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.