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Rail safety, crude oil being discussed

By Staff | Sep 19, 2014

Rugby residents are accustomed to lengthy trains coming through the area daily.

On average, eight Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight trains come through the area in a 24-hour period. When not hauling consumer products, trains carrying grain or crude oil can be at least 100 rail cars long, according to BNSF estimates.

With the increase in traffic, concerns for driver and pedestrian safety are being discussed throughout the state.

“A main concern we have is the railway crossings and making sure equipment there is working correctly and people are obeying the law at the crossings,” said Rugby Police Chief John Rose. “We have to trust what’s coming through is at [federally] regulated speeds.”

Amy McBeth, BNSF public affairs director, said in an email: “Promoting grade crossing safety is an essential part of our operation and culture. Trains cannot stop quickly or swerve to get out of the way.”

Trains carrying Bakken crude oil have been of primary concern.

In April of this year, residents of downtown Lynchburg, Va., were temporarily evacuated from their homes when a crude train derailed. No one was killed or injured in the derailment. Thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the James River as a result.

Late last year a mile-long oil train collided with a 111-car grain train, derailed and exploded near Casselton. While no one was injured or killed in the incident, 1,400 of Casselton residents were forced to evacuate. An estimated 400,000 gallons of oil were spilled in the derailment, according to findings of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

In July 2013, a 74-car train heading from New Town to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings in the downtown area were destroyed.

“We’ve all heard about Bakken oil and how flammable it is,” Rose said.

A July 2014 report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration concluded that Bakken crude is highly volatile, as indicated by a high gas point, high vapor pressure, low boiling point and low flash point (the temperature at which it can vaporize and ignite).

McBeth said BNSF has trained more than 6,000 first responders – an estimated 600 in North Dakota – in community exercises and hazmat courses. BNSF provides information regarding hazardous material transportation to local emergency planners and first responders.

McBeth also said BNSF has called for tougher tank car standards, and for customers to phase DOT-111 tanker cars, which have been used as of yet to transport oil, out of use. As part of new standards, BNSF has issued bid requests to train car manufacturers to build cars stronger than standards implemented by the railway industry in Oct. 2011.

Rugby Fire Department Chief Dave Schneibel Jr., said one of the first things the fire department would do if a crude oil train were to derail or explode in or near the City of Rugby is secure the scene and evacuate people, if necessary. The department would also call for a state hazardous material team to help put out the fires.

Both Rose and Schneibel, however, said there are a lot of unknowns involved if a derailment and explosion were to occur.

“It depends on a lot of factors; where [a derailment and explosion] took place, wind direction and what is being carried,” Rose said.

Schneibel added: “Part of it is determined by the size of the derailment. A one-car derailment can be handled locally.”

Schneibel said the affected area is within one mile in the vicinity of the derailment and explosion, and one mile downwind. However, Rose said the entire city of Rugby could be an affected area.

Pierce County Emergency Services Director Kelsey Siegler said the county is working on contingencies in the event of a pipeline oil spill or a train derailment. Current emergency contingencies operate on how much damage was done, what resources are available and how much in state aid funds the county can ask for and receive.

Siegler said she attended trans-car training courses that teach emergency planning coordinators and first responders how to read hazardous material transportation information.

“Any hazardous material could prove catastrophic to our small community,” Siegler said.

A state hearing regarding transporting Bakken crude oil by rail is set for Tuesday at the Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck.

BNSF builds CTC tower

Rugby residents may have noticed a structure being built a few blocks west of the Rugby train depot.

As part of BNSF’s $400 million railway expansion and infrastructure maintenance project, several 50-foot monopole towers are being constructed along the Bismarck to Fargo route.

In Rugby, one such tower is being built near 4th Avenue SW. BNSF expects the tower to be completed in the coming weeks.

The towers are part of an upgrade to a centralized traffic control (CTC) system. Similar to an air traffic control tower, a dispatcher sends a signal, by way of the towers, containing routing instructions to trains. The dispatcher is aware of where trains are at all times and can tell trains to proceed through a railway, stop or go onto a second track.

BNSF is also constructing tracks near the main track on the Minot to Grand Forks and Fargo to Minot routes.

McBeth said BNSF trains won’t be the only ones benefitting from the new CTC upgrade.

“Amtrak operates on our railway tracks [in North Dakota] as well, and so this and other upgrades on our routes where Amtrak operates will benefit Amtrak,” McBeth said.

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