Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of its meetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.
Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story.
At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety.
“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.
“The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”
Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail’s presentations to OIRA.
Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.
Massive War Room
Those present at the June 10 OIRA meeting included representatives from AAR, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX Corporation, Norfolk Southern and the DOT.
Akin to the gargantuan war room in the film “Dr. Strangelove,” 26 people took part in the session.
Invitees included Meredith Kelsch, senior attorney for DOT; Orest Dachniwsky, associate general counsel for BNSF; Robert Schmidt, senior manager of operations and casualty analysis for Union Pacific; and Richard Theroux, who has worked at the Office of Management and Budget — parent of OIRA — for nearly three decades.
“19th Century Technology”
The heading on the first slide of CSX’s presentation for OIRA stated, “ECP brakes are expensive and do not offer material safety advantages.”
ECP is industry shorthand for Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes, currently considered the best available brakes in the business.
At a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in April, Richard Connor, safety specialist for DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), gave a presentation comparing the conventional air brake system used on most freight trains to the ECP brakes passed over by CSX.
“I’m not sure with the audience if you all understand how the current air brake systems on our freight trains out there operate today, but it’s basically 19th century technology,” said Connor.
Connor also described the performance of the brakes in an emergency situation as “painfully slow” in comparing ECP’s response time to that of the conventional braking system.
“One of the biggest advantages of ECP is that signal to apply your brakes…is going at the speed of light…it’s a much quicker signal,” he said.
Connor also discussed how ECP would “offer material safety advantages” over current technology in an oil train accident, even if expensive.
“For the purpose of why we would want ECP on, say, a unit train like these oil trains, [it’s] to reduce the impact of a derailment or reduce the damages caused by a derailment of these types of trains,” explained Connor.
“[The purpose] is you get a much quicker application, you reduce that kinetic energy involved with that train.”
BNSF serves as the Queen Bee in the oil-by-rail world.