Second crude oil train safety check finds minor problems

Times Union | March 27, 2014 | Column by Brian Nearing

A view looking south west of the CSX rail yard on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 in Selkirk, NY. CSX is expanding rail lines south of Selkirk so they can deliver more crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)


Three Capital Region rail yards were the latest targets in an ongoing "inspection blitz" touted Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that aims to reduce risks of potential derailments and explosions of massive crude oil trains that are passing through the state.

State and federal inspectors hit the sprawling West Albany yard, just south of Interstate 90; the Kenwood Yard at the Port of Albany, and the Selkirk yard south of Albany, finding numerous minor problems but issuing no violations, Cuomo said.

It was the second time the Kenwood yard, operated by oil company Global Companies, was inspected in less than a month. This time, inspectors looked at 120 DOT-111 tank cars, which haul oil and have been found to be prone to rupturing during derailments, and found 15 cases of defective wheels with flat spots that can produce a pounding impact on rails. The wheels were to be repaired before the tankers could leave.

Inspectors also found a tanker with a faulty brake and three "minor defects" among 64 tankers examined for "hazardous materials faults." The earlier inspection of Kenwood tracks had found 36 defects that were repaired.

At the CSX-owned Selkirk yard, where 13 tanker cars each carrying about 29,000 gallons of highly flammable crude derailed Feb. 28 but did not spill or explode, inspectors looked at a mile of track and found 20 "non-critical defects" that were to be repaired, according to the governor's press release. The yard is a key transit gateway to much of the Northeast and can handle thousands of freight cars a day.

And in West Albany, inspectors examined two miles of CSX-owned track and found seven "non-critical defects" that were to be repaired. Inspectors also looked over two miles of nearby Transflo Industrial tracks and found a broken rail, which was taken out of service. Twelve other "non-critical defects" were also found.

Cuomo said the state is "doing everything possible to prevent mishaps and keep crude oil transport safe." In January, he ordered beefed-up inspections of rail yards, tracks and tankers amid a growing national debate over a flood of crude being shipped nationwide on massive trains from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Each train can contain more than 100 tanker cars carrying millions of gallons of highly flammable crude. During the last two years, the Port of Albany has become a major shipping point for the crude oil headed for coastal refineries. At the port, Global, and another company, Buckeye Partners, have state permission to handle 2.8 billion gallons of oil a year.

The DOT-111 tanker can rupture during derailments, which can result in large crude-fueled explosions and fires. In Quebec, 47 people died in such a blast last year when DOT-111s derailed. Other explosions have occurred in rail accidents in Alabama and North Dakota.

The state inspections involved the state Transportation DepartmentFederal Railroad Administration, and federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Inspectors looked at tanker car brakes and other safety equipment, as well as rails, ties and other equipment.

Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said the department is "committed to ensuring that the freight rails and equipment meet all standards and do not pose any hazards."

Inspections were also done in the Buffalo region, including at the Frontier and Niagara yards. There inspectors looked at a total of 122 tanker cars, and found 19 defects, including a faulty brake that led to a federal violation for a missing mandatory brake test. Three cars were mislabeled.

Also in January, Cuomo ordered four agencies — DEC, Health Department, Transportation Department, and Homeland Security and Emergency Services Division — to report by April 30 on state preparedness to handle a potential crude oil spill or resulting fire "by rail, ship or barge."

The four agencies immediately asked the federal heads for energy, transportation and homeland security and the U.S. Coast Guard to quickly toughen safety standards for rail cars carrying oil and to study how such trains might be routed to reduce risks of damage and injury from derailments and resulting fires.

[email protected] • 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.