Tag Archives: train

Report: Operator error caused train derailment, ethanol spill

Federal investigators said crew fatigue may have contributed to the derailment of a BNSF freight train that spilled more than 20,000 gallons of ethanol last year in western Wisconsin.

The engineer and the conductor scored poorly on the Federal Railroad Administration’s fatigue analysis tool, even though they each had more than 13 hours of rest prior to beginning their shift at 1 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2015.

The derailment occurred nearly eight hours later.

Both employees passed alcohol and drug screenings.

A report released this week said the engineer violated railroad guidelines by applying the brakes too suddenly, causing 25 cars to jump the tracks near Alma, Wisconsin. Braking rapidly can cause momentum at the rear of a train, which can push cars off the track, the La Crosse Tribune  reported.

According to the report, the freight train was traveling at 26 mph when it derailed, and was previously slowed from 54 mph. The maximum speed limit on the track where the incident occurred is 60 mph and the train was restricted to 55 mph, according to the FRA report.

The administration also determined the layout of the more than 100-car train, which had heavily-loaded cars behind dozens of lighter and empty cars, contributed to the derailment.

The FRA characterized the incident as poor handling. Spokesman Marc Willis said the agency didn’t fine the railroad because the engineer did not violate any federal regulations.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said as a result of the incident the engineer is no longer employed with the company.

No injuries were reported in the incident which caused about $2.1 million damage to rail equipment.

The derailment was one of several rail accidents last winter in Wisconsin and Minnesota.


Music Reviews: Train, Little Big Town and Paul McCartney

web - trainTrain :: ‘Does Led Zeppelin II’

Train’s Does Led Zeppelin II is a faithful, needless cover of the British band’s 1969 classic — proficient, if sterile, with especially feeble backing vocals.

If you walked into a bar and the band played Led Zeppelin like Train does, you might do a deserved double take. Bandleader Pat Monahan, who got his start in a Led Zep cover band, preaches the Robert Plant notes with less grit and depth of emotion.

There are some bright sides. Proceeds from DLZII will benefit Family House, a charity that provides temporary lodging for the families of ill kids being treated in the band’s hometown San Francisco. And perhaps listeners will be motivated by Train’s take on the record to pick up the original. So if you’re feeling charitable, are a Train fan or just curious about how “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love” or “Ramble On” sound in the hands of the three-time Grammy winners known for “Drops of Jupiter” and “Hey, Soul Sister,” this is for you. And only you. (Pablo Gorondi/AP)

web - LittleBigTownLittle Big Town :: ‘Wanderlust’

Little Big Town, country music’s top vocal group, achieved widespread fame by continually taking artistic risks and pushing boundaries. With Wanderlust, they take a bigger risk, working with hitmaker Pharrell Williams to create a contemporary pop and dance album.

On the surface, the new partners complement each other well: Pharrell brings his deceptively simple beats and sunny melodies, as heard on the single “One of Those Days” and album opener “One Dance.” Little Big Town’s harmonies and layered voices highlight the melodic uplift and rhythmic verve of the arrangements, especially on the gospel-drawn power of “C’mon” and the light Jamaican touch in “Work.” What’s missing is the emotional weight Little Big Town has brought to their best work, such as “Pontoon,” “Day Drinking” or the Grammy-winning “Girl Crush.”

Wanderlust presents plenty of joyful escape and playful fun. But nothing on the lightweight collection measures up to the group’s best work. (Michael McCall/AP)

web - McCartneySquarePaul McCartney :: ‘Pure McCartney’

Paul McCartney reviews his post-Beatle albums on Pure McCartney, a quirky mix of 67 hits and personal favorites that’s both delightful and baffling. With over 300 songs to choose from since his 1970 solo debut, Sir Paul’s anthology confirms his incomparable gift for melody, has catchy songs far beyond the hits and combines eclectic picks with notable absences.

The compilation is McCartney’s own mixtape, one version of how he sees his career. Just like the fans, McCartney has favorites among his hits and album cuts. Eight tracks from Flaming Pie and five from New while none from Flowers in the Dirt or Driving Rain indicate clear preferences. There are no cover versions, which may be in line with the “pure” concept, but excludes his smoldering version of “No Other Baby.”

You can’t please everyone, but why “Bip Bop” again instead of “Some People Never Know” and no “Little Lamb Dragonfly,” “Spies Like Us,” “My Brave Face” or “Only Love Remains”? You get the uplifting “Wanderlust” but where are “Somebody Who Cares” or “Take It Away”? “Warm and Beautiful” over “Beware My Love”?

Still, Pure McCartney is a substantial, honest and gratifying introduction to the long and winding career of a pop music giant, a tasting menu whetting the appetite for more. (Pablo Gorondi/AP)

Amtrak bike service takes passengers from rails to trails

Bicyclists from major cities between Washington, D.C. and Chicago who want to bike the C&O Canal towpath or Great Allegheny Passage can now take the rails to their preferred trails with Amtrak’s new roll-on bicycle service.

The bicycle service, which began earlier last month, is available on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, which runs from Washington, D.C. to Chicago with many stops in between, including the train stations in Cumberland, Maryland, Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. The service is available to passengers seven days a week.

Christopher Craig, owner of a bed and breakfast in Harpers Ferry who is also a member of the Trail and Town Alliance, said the bicycle service is simple to use. When passengers make a reservation to ride on the Capitol Limited, they can also choose to reserve space for a bicycle. The train can accommodate eight bicycles at a time, but the service is based on available space.

“Amtrak carries little commuter traffic. It’s mostly for tourists,” Craig said. “This bike service opens up many possibilities to explore the region. Trail activists, like the Trail and Town Alliance, got involved in pushing for this service because there are hundreds of thousands of bicyclists who travel the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage each year. Most of them start in Pittsburgh or Cumberland for long-distance rides, but not every cyclist wants to do that.”

Prior to the bicycle service, Craig said, passengers could only bring their bikes onto the train at Amtrak stations with baggage service. To return home from a ride, cyclists would have to arrange a ride back to a train station to get home.

John Noel, deputy superintendent with the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said cyclists are the primary users of the park.

“This new service Amtrak is providing is one we’ve worked for a number of years to make available to users. Many visitors to the park have requested something like this,” Noel said. “It’s been a long-standing issue for folks who want to cycle, whether they begin in D.C. or Cumberland-Once your ride is done, how do you get back home?”

Craig said Amtrak had considered starting a bicycle service in the past, but part of the delay stemmed from a funding issue.

“Like many things, Amtrak is not flush with cash right now. It took a group of people pushing for (this service) and encouraging them. There’s even a national committee that has a goal to get bikes on all trains,” he said.

Noel said he expects an increase in the number of bicyclists using the C&O Canal National Historical Park now that the bicycle service is in place.

“It’s pretty early to tell, but I expect to see an increase in bicyclists on the C&O Canal based on the number of requests we got from people who wanted to use this service,” he said.

Craig said the Amtrak bicycle service is part of a larger, regional movement to promote intermodal transportation. Whether it’s for leisure, fitness or commuting, many individuals and groups want to make it easier to walk, bike and take public transit, he said.

Locally, the EPTA now has bike racks on its buses, and Craig said the EPTA has expressed interest in working with Amtrak on the bike service and similar initiatives.

On the Web…

For more information about Amtrak’s Capitol Limited bicycle service, including locations, rates and availability, visit www.amtrak.com/capitol-limited-train.

Editor’s note: Available through AP’s member exchange.

Analysis: Taxpayer cost for Walker’s breach of contract with trainmaker rises to $50M

Wisconsin taxpayers are on the hook for a modernizing rail transportation project Scott Walker nixed when he took office as governor, breaking a contract that ex-Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration entered into with the Spanish trainmaker Talgo. 

Under terms of a settlement made recently in a lawsuit that Talgo filed against the state, Wisconsin will pay $9.7 million to Talgo in addition to the $42 million it’s already paid the company. The total bill taxpayers must pay for trains the state never received or used is $50 million.

Talgo had originally sued the state for nearly $66 million.

Doyle and the state’s then-Democratic Legislature agreed in 2009 to purchase two new train sets from Talgo. They were to be used for Amtrak’s popular Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as for a high-speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison.

In addition to agreeing to purchase the trains, the state had entered into a 20-year maintenance agreement to service the trains, a deal to provide a maintenance facility and an option to purchase two additional train sets.

The deal fell victim to politics, as the new governor sought to burnish his credentials as an “anti-big government” conservative. The rail project was tied to $810 million in federal stimulus money to help pay for it, but Walker rejected the federal funding, depicting it as part of a scheme to foster state dependency on Washington.

Still, Talgo continued building the train sets that the state had agreed to purchase. In January 2012, Talgo notified the state they were ready for delivery, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation refused to accept them. In November 2012, Talgo canceled its purchase contract with the state.

According to the settlement, Talgo will try to sell the two train sets it built for Wisconsin to another buyer. If successful, the train manufacturer will give 30 percent of the sale price to Wisconsin. 

But Nora Friend, the company’s vice president of public affairs and business development, told Milwaukee Business Journal that it would be difficult to find a buyer. Part of the problem is that the trains were not built to meet federal specifications, because they were paid for by the state, according to MBJ.

“We are hopeful we will find a state that is actually open to doing business and actually honors their contracts,” Friend told the publication.

Politics over people

Walker’s critics say the rejection of federal money and the subsequent loss of jobs and high-speed rail was the first in a series of destructive economic decisions the governor made.

Walker’s public argument at the time was that the project would eventually cost the state millions in maintenance fees.

But advocates for the project claimed it was potentially a vital economic development engine that would create jobs and spur new business growth along the rail line, as it has in other regions that have modernized rail.

In light of the Talgo deal, critics charged Walker with hypocrisy when he sought to borrow more than $1.3 billion for new highway projects in the 2015–17 biennial budget. At the time, Walker argued that the road construction would help create jobs. That’s something Walker has said the government should not be in the business of doing.

Walker also has been criticized for saying yes to the considerable federal funds that the state receives for road construction while turning down funds for other forms of transportation. He enjoys major financial support from roadbuilders and donors whose wealth is tied to the fossil fuel industry, leading to accusations that his transportation decisions are being made on their behalf rather than that of the state’s residents. 

Some of the highway projects Walker supports were found to be unnecessary, according to an independent audit of traffic flow patterns commissioned by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

A court decision earlier this year denied federal funds for a project to widen Highway 23 due to faulty traffic-flow projections from WisDOT. In response, the Republican-led Legislature included an item in the budget requiring WisDOT to reevaluate and justify its methods of traffic projections.

Walker vetoed that item, which watchdog groups said could have saved Wisconsin taxpayers billions of dollars.

Public Citizen: ‘Fast-track’ train went off the rails

The “fast track” train went off the rails. The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for fast track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrat and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.

The only reason to upend the required procedures for a “revenue bill” and bring up fast track in the Senate first was to get a huge victory to build momentum in the House.

But that strategy backfired and Democrats in the House remain committed to standing up for their beliefs that the trade package would do a lot more harm than good.

President Barack Obama would now enjoy broad support for a forward-looking trade agenda if only he had implemented the reforms he announced as a candidate, including to “replace” the fast-track procedure created by Richard Nixon with a more inclusive, democratic mechanism.

Instead, Congress is unlikely to revive the 1970s fast-track trade authority Obama seeks.

Congress has denied fast track for all but five of the past 21 years, with 171 Democrats and 71 GOP rejecting President Bill Clinton’s request in 1998. Since 1988, only Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have convinced Congress to delegate Fast Track authority.

Fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an especially bad idea. After six years of negotiations, the text is almost complete. Yet under the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill, the pact would remain secret from the public until 30 days after its text is locked. That this would occur 60 days before the formal signing ceremony is irrelevant, because it would be too late to fight for needed changes.

The rhetoric being used to sell the trade package is really far off from the reality of what is in it. It is like being in the twilight zone. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know the TPP includes an expanded version of the investment provisions found in the North American Free Trade Agreement that incentivize the offshoring of high-wage American jobs and the investor-state dispute settlement system that exposes U.S. policies to attack in foreign tribunals.

The administration chose to use the weak labor and environmental standards that President George W. Bush included in his last trade deals. It was the 2007 Peru Free Trade Agreement, not the TPP, that was the first U.S. trade agreement to have labor and environmental standards it in core text enforceable by the same terms as the commercial provisions. A 2014 Government Accountability Office investigation found these labor and environmental standards now also used for the TPP failed to improve working conditions.

What has leaked out already is deeply troubling. Many members of Congress who — unlike the public — are allowed to read the TPP are warning us that this is a bad deal.

At Nike, Obama said that those concerned about the TPP rolling back food safety, environmental or financial regulation “are making stuff up” and no trade agreement can do that.

In fact, that already has happened repeatedly under past pacts. The “sovereignty” provisions found in Section 8 of the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill are nothing new and appear in implementing legislation for past U.S. trade agreements under which U.S. food safety and environmental policies have been rolled back already. Examples of rollbacks due to trade deals include:

• Gutting rules about importing only food that “meets or exceeds” U.S. safety standards, so we now import food that does not meet U.S. standards; and

• Rolling back environmental laws and regulations — from Clean Air Act regulations to U.S. labeling of dolphin — tuna and more.

Lori Wallach is the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Wisconsinites sue over rail expansion for crude oil

Days after the fiery derailment of an oil train near Galena, Illinois, nine Wisconsin citizens went to court to challenge an expansion of a rail system for oil trains in their community.

The train had just passed through Wisconsin before the derailment.

Their focus was on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ decision to permit the filling of wetlands and the construction of a bridge by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report issued in mid-March stated that BNSF executives, mostly from outside Wisconsin, contributed $15,570 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker from 2010 to October 2014. During that period, Walker received more than $128,000 from the railroad industry.

The BNSF project would expand rail lines carrying crude oil through the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

Citizens, represented by Midwest Environmental Advocates, challenged the permitting for the rail expansion, arguing the DNR’s environmental analysis failed to comply with the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act. Plaintiffs are seeking a reversal of the permit.

One of them, Ralph Knudson, was thinking about the Galena derailment the day his group went to court.

“Today’s rail traffic is much riskier than a few years ago,” he said. “The marsh project being considered is one of a series of projects intended to facilitate even more traffic flow. An environmental impact statement would compel a thorough look at all aspects of construction and operation of rail lines for opportunities to minimize risk and protect the marsh environment and public assets.”

Wisconsin law requires state agencies to consider environmental impacts when making decisions, including issuing permits.

But the DNR has changed its regulations and how it complies with the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act. Among the changes was the elimination of the environmental assessment process that was used to document reviews and decisions regarding whether to prepare an environmental impact statement.

“Thorough disclosure and consideration of the full range of environmental impacts makes for better-informed DNR decisions and provides critical information to the public and other decision-makers about the impacts of a project,” said Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney Sarah Williams.

The citizens, in their complaint, said the DNR, with its permitting program, didn’t complete an adequate environmental analysis and failed to involve citizens in the La Crosse area with concerns about:

• Noise, vibrations and air pollution with increased train traffic.

• Environmental impact of filling another wetland in the La Crosse River Marsh, already reduced by half its size from previous development.

• The environmental impact of the construction and operation of a second track on the Mississippi River adjacent to and downstream from the marsh.

• Environmental harm and public safety in the event of a derailment.

• The proximity of a bald eagle nest — 600 feet — from railroad tracks.

Following the explosive derailment of at least three trains in as many weeks over the winter, citizens in other regions of the country are raising similar concerns about the rapid rise in the number of oil trains in the United States.

Witnesses from miles away saw the fireball that erupted after the BNSF Railway freight train derailed near Galena in early March. The fire burned for more than a day. Twenty-one of the train’s freight cars left the tracks and five ruptured, catching fire. 

The train derailed in a heavily wooded, hilly area near a Mississippi River tributary. Firefighters used a bike path to reach the site, but pulled back because of the intensity of the flames.

The derailed cars were newer and supposedly safer models, and this fact led to heightened calls for local, state and federal authorities to do more to protect people and the environment.

“As we’ve seen in West Virginia and Ontario, these oil trains pose a massive danger to people, wildlife and our environment, whether its trains passing through heavily populated areas or some of our pristine landscapes,” said Jared Margolis of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental advocacy group. Margolis is the author of the recently released report Runaway Risks. 

In his analysis, he reported that an estimated 25 million people in the United States live within the 1-mile evacuation zone for oil train derailments. He also reported:

• Oil trains routinely pass within a quarter-mile of 3,600 miles of streams and more than 73,000 square miles of lakes, wetlands and reservoirs. 

• Oil trains pass through 34 national wildlife refuges and pass within a quarter-mile of critical habitat for 57 threatened or endangered species.

• Oil train traffic has increased from about 10,000 cars in 2008 to 400,000 cars in 2014.

• Oil trains are expected to haul 40 times more oil in 2015 than in 2005.

• More than 1.1 million barrels of crude oil spilled from oil trains in 2013.

In the Midwest, oil trains transport about 72 percent of the 1 million barrels of crude produced in the North Dakota Bakken fields.

Margolis’ report said BNSF moves as many as 27 oil trains a week through Cook County, Illinois. And up to 15 oil trains a day pass through the Twin Cities, Minnesota.

“Almost all of these oil trains pass through Minnesota into Wisconsin, traveling along the Mississippi River before turning east, often to East Coast oil refineries,” Margolis wrote. “Data show that 30 to 48 dedicated oil trains per week carry Bakken crude into Wisconsin from Minnesota. Three to five of these cross southern Wisconsin on the Canadian Pacific railroad, passing through downtown Milwaukee and turning south along the heavily populated Lake Michigan coast. The rest travel on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad along the east bank of the Mississippi River, through the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge.”

The report contains a series of recommendations, including:

• Banning outdated tank cars.

• Amending regulations to require oil-spill response plans for areas where oil trains operate.

• Limiting the length of trains to 30 cars and 4,000 tons.

• Establishing speed limits — less than 20 mph — for oil trains traveling through population centers or within a quarter mile of environmentally sensitive areas.

Still, Margolis said, “the reality is there’s no way to safely transport the highly volatile crude from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota or the heavy crudes from the Alberta tar sands. Instead, these extreme fossil fuels should be left in the ground.”

Train carrying Bakken oil derails, burns near Galena

A freight train loaded with crude oil derailed in northern Illinois, bursting into flames and prompting officials to suggest that everyone with 1 mile evacuate, authorities said.

The BNSF Railway train derailed Thursday afternoon in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand. A cause for the derailment hadn’t yet been determined. No injuries were reported.

Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said at a news conference late Thursday, adding that the suggestion to evacuate was prompted by the presence of a propane tank near the derailment.

The derailment occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant. The Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the train was transporting oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region.

Earlier in the day, Moran said 8 tankers had left the track. But Williams said at the news conference that only six cars derailed, two of which burst into flames and continued to burn into the night.

Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They attempted to fight a small fire at the scene but were unable to stop the flames.

Firefighters had to pull back for safety reasons and were allowing the fire to burn itself out, Conley said. In addition to Galena firefighters, emergency and hazardous material responders from Iowa and Wisconsin were at the scene.

The derailment comes amid increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

Since 2008, derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have seen 70,000-gallon tank cars break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires. A train carrying Bakken crude crashed in a Quebec town in 2013, killing 47 people. Last month, a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude derailed in a West Virginia snowstorm, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a river tributary and forcing hundreds of families to evacuate.

The ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.

In a statement, the Federal Railroad Administration said it was sending investigators to the Illinois derailment site and that the agency will conduct a “thorough investigation,” to determine the cause.

BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino said railroad employees were on the scene and additional personnel were headed there.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner also put state personnel and equipment at the ready for deployment.