Train Derailment and Knee-Jerk Responses

by lewwaters

Oil Train FireIn spite of the cries over extended unemployment benefits being ended in Clark County, indicating the job situation might not be near as rosy as we are led to believe, there are those who would still hype the recent train derailment in North Dakota to use against job creation at the Port.

Let there be no mistake, I do not make light of the accident and in spite of the dangers such a derailment and fire posed for the small town of Casselton, seeing the towns people evacuated and subsequently returning in a short period, the lack of injury is noticeable.

As we saw in Canada, it could have been much worse.

But, it also must be put in perspective as those actively opposed to an oil terminal at our Port and the jobs such an endeavor will bring latched onto the accident immediately for their purposes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Much like major airline crashes, such derailments as seen recently make headlines for biased media since they are relatively infrequent. An article from the Grand Forks Herald states, “While derailments aren’t rare, releases of hazardous materials from derailed train cars happen infrequently in North Dakota, statistics show.”

They also cite, “From January 2000 to October 2013, the Federal Railroad Administration recorded 71 derailments involving hazardous materials in North Dakota” and add, “Only three of the 71 derailments involved releases of hazardous materials…”

By contrast, Amtrak passenger train derailments, like was seen in Florida in 2002 and in Louisiana in 1993 make big news because of the loss of life, but I don’t recall activists suggesting or protesting against Amtrak.

But, freight trains hauling oil that produces fire, large fireballs and a lot of dense smoke, are perfect visuals for activists to hype and use to further their anti-oil agenda, ignoring all human need for jobs.

While the focus and blame is placed on the train and the load, the actual cause is normally ignored as is only about 10 cars out of over 100 cars actually burned.

We see some issuing their usual “this is a wake-up call” broadcast over the accident, left out is reports of the ‘why’ of the accident.

In this particular case, a video camera is reported to have been installed at the head of the oil train and it recorded “the crash as it slammed into a car of a derailed grain train.”

It is reported, “When the oil train arrived, the other train transporting grain and soy bean had already derailed, and one of its cars was lying in the oil train’s path. The oil train slammed into it and burst into flames.”

Do we hear anybody opposing shipping grain by rail? No and here we see that this accident is a result of a train carrying grain derailing in the path of the train carrying oil.

Nowhere yet have I read the exact cause of the explosion and fire, but it is widely known that grain dust is highly volatile, many grain silos across the country experiencing fires and explosions throughout the years. I can’t help but wonder if a spark was created when the trains collided that set off the overturned grain car first and subsequently, the oil cars derailed after the impact.

OSHA warns: “Grain dust explosions are often severe, involving loss of life and substantial property damage. Over the last 35 years, there have been over 500 explosions in grain handling facilities across the United States, which have killed more than 180 people and injured more than 675.”

Grain Fire

Storing and handling grain is also very dangerous and even though the Port of Vancouver already has a grain terminal and has for several years, we see no groups flocking before City Council or the County Commission demanding they end their operation due to the dangers involved.

No, but we do see the usual malcontents hyping the planned construction of an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver due to the perceived dangers of oil when the Lazy C copied and pasted the AP report.

In a facebook discussion, one such malcontent exclaimed, “There WILL be an incident here if this is built just a matter of when. Wake up” with another saying, “Tick, tick, tick. The countdown to another rail accident is already on.”

No one worries about the grain storage facilities at the port, though or the trains coming into or through town hauling grain with its explosive grain dust.

We all eat bread, so we need the grain. But, we all also drive cars, motorcycles or use many items derived from petroleum, so we need the oil as well and will continue needing it in the future since oil is responsible in many ways for the lifestyle we have come to enjoy in America.

As happens in other accidents, this one will be investigated and recommendations made to hopefully prevent a repeat. Tracks will be fortified if need be, maintenance of trains will be scrutinized and improvements made. After all, with all of the cries of “corporate greed,” it seems missed that such accidents hamper profits and cause losses.

I expect activists will return to City Council and the County Commission, blasting oil shipments coming through town, opposing the oil terminal and using this accident for “proof” of what will happen.

But not one will call for closing down the grain terminal even though it is equally as hazardous.

8 Comments to “Train Derailment and Knee-Jerk Responses”

  1. I don’t have a big problem with increased train traffic so long as the added burden of diesel particulates and noise on neighborhoods is mitigated and paid for by those who profit from that increased traffic – namely BNSF and the oil / coal companies. Unfortunately the trend has been to pass those costs off to local neighborhoods and governments instead – which is something I think is unfair, and would strongly oppose.

    We also can’t lose sight of the fact that the only reason trains are being proposed, is that the knee-jerk eco-nuts always oppose pipelines, which are by far the most efficient and safe way to transport oil.

  2. I have addressed the pipeline issue before, mentioning the very thing you said, “With the denial of the pipeline, Canadian oil we import will come by trains that are currently operating at capacity carrying oil from the Bakken in North Dakota and Alberta at about 300,000 barrels a day.”

    Of particular note, one of the biggest winners in the expansion of train shipping of oil is Obama buddy, Warren Buffet.

  3. Having worked for a major railroad for 21 years … I can observe that “major” rail derailments are relatively rare — and loss of product from derailed cars is infrequent. “Small” derailments are not unusual… a low speed situation where a human error or switching yard mishap causes one or two axles to slip off the tracks. These do not represent any risk to the public, but do add to the “derailment count.” All derailments must be reported to the Federal Railroad Administration, but most represent relatively minor situations that cause little damage (most involving some minor repair to the rail at the point where it occurred.)

    Hazards to the public from rail operations are far, far lower than truck transportation (where the vehicles share the road with private automobiles).

    The fuel efficiency of rail transit is substantially better than other forms of transportation — the physical reality of steel wheels on steel rails is that there is little friction — so less fuel is required to transport products. Water carriage is generally more economical for bulk commodities, if there are appropriately located rivers or oceans, which is not the case for petroleum products from North Dakota or Canada. Pipelines are also more efficient, if there is sufficient volume to support the infrastructure. Pipelines have even been used to move large quantities of coal, by mixing it with water to make a “slurry” to allow pumping.

    Concern about diesel particulates applies to both trains and truck traffic. However, both forms of transportation must meet stringent EPA regulations. Railroads and supporting manufacturers have significantly improved locomotive pollution control over the years. Noise is always a factor with any form of transportation, but there is no indication that the number of trains involved will represent a significant increase in quantity of trains. Besides, it is inevitable that changes in truck or rail transit patterns will affect the noise experienced by those who are close by to highways or rail facilities. (I note that this concern about noise did not seem to cause any concern by those supporting the CRC with rail transit — and there are far more transit vehicles to cause noise.)

    With respect to both noise and pollution, pipelines would tend to have the least impact. Most of the noise is concentrated at the pumping stations (which makes mitigation easier) and the fixed facilities are easier to fit with highly effective pollution controls.

    While BNSF would most certainly receive a large share of the rail traffic originating in the Bracken oil field, the additional volume would generate many well paid jobs with the rail carrier — and other rail carriers that would also benefit from the increased volume of traffic.

    I note, too, that rail carriers as well as federal regulators are in the process of raising the standards of tank car construction to further reduce the possibility of spilling contents in a derailment (or other accident). Most tank cars are owned by third party freight car leasing companies, who are “resistant” to the significant additional costs involved. It is likely that transition to upgraded rail cars will take several years to fully implement (to replace or retrofit existing cars), but ultimately tank cars will become even less likely to spill contents.

    Unfortunately, so long as humans make errors and that mechanical things wear out, there is always a risk of accident from any means of transportation. Looking at the record of all forms of transportation over the past 100 years, all have made amazing strides toward ever greater safety and efficiency.

  4. Lew, you present a good argument…one which will be difficult for those in opposition to fight without their sounding like a bunch of whiners.

    How many “what might happen” scenarios have actually played out???

    I find it a bit on the funny side that those who are in opposition to the trains to the port are also the same ones who are in support of a certain electric choo choo in Portland which has a higher percentage of accidents in a confined region.

    I will say however, I believe that the rail lines along the North/South lines between Vancouver and Bellingham (Felida/Ridgefield and Seattle/Everett in December 2012 and April 2013 for example). It might be in their best interests to shore up those hillsides which continue to degrade any time we have heavy Washington rains IF they haven’t already. I believe there were a few more rail line stoppages than usual this past year and a half.


    FRIEND…a couple of questions for you IF you have the information…do you know if the railroad companies are running their trains on cleaner fuel systems than in past years? Also, how often do they inspect the trains? If you know the answers and could share it, I’d be much appreciative.

  5. correction…”I will say however I believe that the rail lines along the North/South lines between Vancouver and Bellingham (Felida/Ridgefield and Seattle/Everett in December 2012 and April 2013 for example) need some much-needed upgrades. It might…”

    sorry about that.

  6. “I can’t help but wonder if a spark was created when the trains collided that set off the overturned grain car first and subsequently, the oil cars derailed after the impact.”

    Good point Lew. The investigation could very well conclude as much. Consider if that were an Amtrak train that crashed into the grain train, with an explosion following claiming the lives of dozens of riders. That would have been construed as a “tragic accident” and then dismissed. There would be no calls for banning grain trains.

  7. funny that the dumb asses dpn’t whine about all those tanker cars of very flammable ethanol on trains nor the fact that locomotives carry a lot of diesel fuel and just think of all the double tankers of gasoline on the hiways.just think of all the travelling gas tanks whizzing by your humble abode every day. you gotta wonder how many morons live next to roads or how many idiots live beneath power lines that would cook their miserable asses if the overhead wires ever touched them or how many chicken littles don’t know that sputnik can easily crash down on them at any time orhow their stupid asses could be crushed by a meteor

  8. etc.etc.etc.people sure are damned stupid, aren’t they?

Leave a Reply. Comments are moderated. Spam & off topic comments will not be approved at Blog Author's discretion. THIS IS NOT A FREE SPEECH ZONE!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: