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News :: Organizing
Oil Train Week of Action July 6-13, 2014
by Matt Landon
Email: vancouveractionnetwork (nospam) gmail.com
20 Jun 2014
Please organize actions against explosive oil trains in your community July 6-13, 2014. Protest locations include the Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration offices and railroads. Please use tactics including but not limited to Twitter Oil Train Watch, public info requests, protests, and organizing Statewide Oil Train Summits.
Please repost far and wide.
Are explosive Bakken crude oil trains coming through your town? / Actions you can take now!
July 6, 2014 marks the one year anniversary of the first major oil train explosion in Canada which took the lives of 47 people. The week of July 6-13, 2014 is an international week of action to mark this anniversary and make sure these folk’s lives were not lost in vain. Your actions should not be limited to this one week as we are dealing with an entrenched oil and rail industry and don’t settle for anything less than the a complete ban on any oil shipped by DOT 111 and DOT 111a cars.
Actions are being posted on www.stopoiltrains.org
When you organize a protest please contact us at vancouveractionnetwork (at) gmail.com
We have come up with tactics here in Vancouver, Washington to take this from a defensive to an offensive fight against the oil by rail industry. Please consider using these tactics as they are and will be effective. If you begin using this tactics please contact us so we can help document your work. If you need tech support contact us.
Take care, matt landon with Vancouver Action Network vancouveractionnetwork.blogspot.com
Check out this map to see if oil trains are coming through-- http://priceofoil.org/rail-map/
Oil trains are bad because they have blown up at least 8 times in the last year killing innocent railside residents and polluting the environment. As the US and Canada have increased their oil extraction and production--and as resistance to oil pipelines becomes more effective--the use of trains to transport oil has skyrocketed, leaving communities vulnerable to explosions, oil spills, and unmonitored oil train air emissions. We must take action now to stop this trend!
Call to Action— Nationwide protests and formation of an International Oil Train Activists movement
This is a call for activists to join in creating an International Oil Train Activists movement and to help organize mass non-violent protests across the North American continent against explosive oil trains.
We have three nationwide protest actions.
1) First contact your state Emergency Management Agency and fill out a public records request for information which the railroads have provided to the EMA’s in relation to DOT Emergency Order DOT-OST-2014-0067 and which was due by June 7, 2014.
Find your state EMA-- http://www.fema.gov/state-offices-and-agencies-emergency-management
For more info about DOT Emergency Order-- http://www.dot.gov/briefing-room/emergency-order
Information on public records request in WA-- http://www.mil.wa.gov/about/about_public_records_disclosure.shtml
Here is the request form for Washington state-- http://www.mil.wa.gov/about/documents/mil_public_records_request_form.pd
Please print the above form and fill in the following information including your name, date, email and signature and return to the WA state EMA or your state EMA.
We have filed an information request here in Washington state and the EMA informed us that the railroad would likely seek a court injunction against our request. This is GREAT because it means that the railroad is spending between several hundred and several thousand dollars to keep one person from one group from getting this information! Let’s see how many people we can get to request this information and how much money we can cost the railroads. We plan to request this information in 49 US states.
When you request info from your state EMA please let us know vancouveractionnetwork (at) gmail.com
2) Since the railroads won’t release their oil train information we can just generate the information ourselves. You can start a 100% Oil Train Watch in your city, town, or neighborhood by using Twitter on a computer or smart phone. If you see a 100% oil train Tweet the time, location, direction of train travel, and your state’s abbreviation in the hashtag such as #waoiltrainwatch for Washington state or #tnoiltrainwatch for Tennessee. By watching and recording these trains we can be a warning siren for first responders, elected officials and the general public with real time information. We can also use this information to provide a check on the info the railroads provide to the state EMAs, and on possible total oil train volume violations of air quality permits of current export facilities.
To view our Train Watching activities go to vancouveractionnetwork.blogspot.com
Let us know you are Tweeting about 100% oil trains at vancouveractionnetwork (at) gmail.com
3) The Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration are the two agencies that regulate Hazardous Materials shipping via railroads. We demand that they immediately issue an Emergency Order halting the hauling of any type of crude oil in the outdated and unsafe DOT 111 and DOT 111a railcars. By organizing a protest in your own city or state you will be joining in the growing movement to bring a halt to these explosive oil trains before the next city is vaporized, life is lost, or environment spoiled.
The Department of Transportation has the authority to deem the DOT 111 and DOT 111a railcar fleet unsafe for hauling explosive crude oil yet they have been dragging their feet on taking real action. We demand they take immediate action. Each state has multiple regional DOT offices and we need protests at each one.
Department of Transportation state/ regional offices and headquarters in Washington DC-- https://fhwaapps.fhwa.dot.gov/foisp/staffnetStateDOT.do
Federal Railroad Administration regional offices -- http://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0244
Headquarters Washington DC Region 1 Cambridge, MA Region 2 Crum Lynne, PA Region 3 Atlanta, GA Region 4 Chicago, IL Region 5 Fort Worth, TX Region 6 Kansas City, MO Region 7 Sacramento, CA Region 8 Vancouver, WA
4) Consider attending the Washington Oil Train Summit August 22-23, 2014 at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. More info at http://washingtonoiltrainsummit.blogspot.com This summit will mainly be focused on solidifying the WA Oil Train Activists actions but we are inviting representatives from other groups to attend as well so that we can grow the International movement.
Thanks Matt Landon with Vancouver Action Network vancouveractionnetwork.blogspot.com
This work is in the public domain
Re: Oil Train Week of Action July 6-13, 2014
(No verified email address)
20 Jun 2014
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Lawyer: Military Employee Admitted He Was Paid by Army to Attend Private Activist Meetings in Homes By: Kevin Gosztola Monday June 16, 2014
An attorney pursuing a lawsuit against alleged domestic United States military spying says during depositions in the case a civilian employee who worked for the Army admitted he was paid to attend activist meetings at private homes in the state of Washington. And a fusion center intelligence employee, who coordinated with the military, also considered civil disobedience to be “terrorism.”
The lawsuit is known as Panagacos v. Towery. It accuses the US military of directing John Jacob Towery, who worked for the US Army Force Protection Division at Fort Lewis, to infiltrate a group called the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) in Olympia and Tacoma, Washington. It also accuses the cities of Olympia and Tacoma of coordinating with the military to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of activists.
PMR organized demonstrations from 2006 to 2009 against the “use of civilian ports in Puget Sound for striker vehicles and other military cargo being shipped over to Iraq and then shipped to Pakistan or Afghanistan,” according to Larry Hildes, who is one of the National Lawyers Guild attorneys representing activists targeted by the military.
Nonviolent civil disobedience was a part of some of the demonstrations, and at one demonstration in May 2006, police used pepper spray on demonstrators.
Thomas Rudd, head of Force Protection, is accused of directing Towery to identify activists “in order to facilitate their arrest without probable cause.” Rudd apparently instructed Towery to build friendships and provide reports on what activists were planning, which Rudd could share with government agencies.
Both Towery and Rudd are accused of coordinating with local law enforcement in the state of Washington to “silence” PMR activists.
According to Hildes, Towery admitted during depositions that he had not only been paid by the Army to go to PMR meetings in private homes but was also paid to attend meetings related to actions planned for the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Chris Adamson, who was the director of a regional intelligence group of the Department of Homeland Security’s Washington Fusion Center and a lieutenant of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, stated in depositions that “civil disobedience is terrorism,” according to Hildes.
He claimed to attorneys that, while he admired Martin Luther King Jr., even what the civil rights movement had done had a “criminal nexus” and “he would have expected them to be investigated as terrorists.”
Hildes said Adamson believed if activists were using up “law enforcement resources with the intent of committing any criminal act,” it was “terrorism.”
Adamson played a key role in having two of the plaintiffs in the case, Brendan Dunn and Jeffery Berryhill, listed in a database as “domestic terrorists.”
Hildes recalled that during a deposition with Colonel Lois Beard, who was one of the commanders in the 42nd Military Police Battalion, she said “of course we’re monitoring the peace movement because they’re anti-military.” They might demonstrate against us so we need to have an “operational awareness of what they are doing.”
Attorneys gave Beard multiple opportunities to change her answer, but she stuck to it. She was one of Towery’s arrest supervisors.
Towery reportedly claimed to NLG attorneys conducting his deposition that the term “anarchist” was used to refer to everyone as a “term of convenience.” Hildes said it was “more convenient to refer to everyone without bothering with whether everyone is anarchists or not or whether they had any potential for violence or not.”
A boss of Towery’s, who Hildes did not specify, said during deposition at least three times, “There are no limits to intelligence sharing to defend the homeland.” Lawyers are calling this one of the most “Dr. Strangelovian” statements they have heard so far in the case.
“All of them have said if someone arrested at an demonstration that was good enough proof of a criminal nexus,” Hildes recalled. “It didn’t matter what the courts did. It didn’t matter if they were ever charged with anything. The fact that they were arrested by the police is good enough. And therefore they receive extra attention and more than likely will be arrested again because their presence indicated that the demonstration was going to be more militant and potentially violent, even though none of these folks ever committed an act of violence.”
In December 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the lawsuit could proceed to trial, the first time a court had ever said civilians could sue the military for damages for spying on them while engaged in activism.
A trial is currently scheduled for August 11 in Tacoma, Washington, but defendants in the case of moved for summary judgment, which means they believe there are no facts in dispute in the case and the law is on their side. They want the US District Court for the Western District of Washington to dismiss the lawsuit.
However, Hildes said that attorneys now have admissions from depositions that everything they have said was happening was committed with the “intent of disrupting” demonstrations because of “who our folks were.”
“We want to get that in front of a jury,” Hildes stated.
“There’s clear intent to violate our client’s rights,” he argued. “We’re trying to hold not only Towery and Rudd but the city of Olympia and the city of Tacoma liable because they did most of the arrests and harassment.”
“What we are showing is across all of these lines, there is a culture and policy of going after our folks simply because they were associated with PMR and [Students for a Democratic Society] and were demonstrating against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’re showing that culture goes up through the Army hierarchy. In fact, Beard admitted to bragging to Army command at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, and at the Pentagon about how successful the intelligence gathering was at disrupting PMR’s ability to ‘achieve their objectives’ and frustrating them.”
The efforts by the military worked. PMR has not engaged in any demonstrations since 2009. Some of the group’s key organizers even chose to leave the state of Washington.
Despite the impact on individuals in the group, the military sees the operation they ran in coordination with local law enforcement as being completely justified.
There will be oral argument on summary judgment on June 18. Attorneys representing military officers accused of spying in the case hope to convince a judge the officers did not deliberately violate any person’s rights.
Re: Oil Train
by Spartacist Canada
(No verified email address)
22 Jun 2014
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Spartacist Canada No. 178
Lac-Mégantic Industrial Murder
In the early morning hours of July 6, 47 people burned to death in the runaway train explosion at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Most were enjoying an evening out at Musi-Café, a popular hangout in the centre of this industrial and tourist town of 6,000 on the southern part of the Chaudière River, near the border with Maine. Ignited by 72 unattended and shoddily designed tank cars of crude oil that rolled down a steep hill and slammed into the town, at least 30 buildings burned to the ground. Many others remain uninhabitable due to soil contamination, while drinking water was tainted by 100,000 litres of crude spilling into the river and the lake.
This tragedy was no accident. It was shaped by money-pinching cutbacks, layoffs and criminal neglect by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) rail company, owned by Edward Burkhardt’s Rail World of Chicago. It also arose ineluctably from the drive for profits by the huge Canadian railway conglomerates, and was aided and abetted by the federal government’s gutting of safety regulations at the behest of these same rail bosses.
About a decade ago, Canadian Pacific abandoned or sold off unprofitable rail lines in eastern Quebec and New Brunswick to smaller companies like MMA, even though these lines are essential to get products to the Atlantic ports. With the vast expansion of North American oil production, notably in the Alberta tar sands, transport of crude oil by train has now skyrocketed: up from about 500 carloads four years ago to a projected 140,000 this year. The Lac-Mégantic death train was carrying crude from booming North Dakota for processing at the Irving refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. In 1994, the government’s own safety officials warned that 80 percent of the rail tanker fleet was unsafe for carrying oil—yet to this day most shipments are carried in such cars, which have a history of puncturing during accidents. Meanwhile, the government has cut safety inspections across the board, claiming the companies would “self-regulate.”
The irrationality of organizing something as essential to society as railways on a for-profit basis has made the rail system a disaster waiting to happen. Last year alone saw 1,011 train accidents in Canada: nearly three a day. Ten days before the Lac-Mégantic inferno, CP management provided a classic instance of corporate arrogance and greed in insisting on running a freight train over a structurally compromised bridge in Calgary in the middle of that city’s flood disaster. The ensuing collapse led to a needless diversion of emergency personnel from flood relief. CP CEO Hunter Harrison justified this act of criminal stupidity by saying that if this particular train had not run, this would amount to “jeopardizing commerce.”
At the heart of the Lac-Mégantic disaster is the naked pursuit of profit that drives the capitalist system. This system, which serves the interests of a tiny handful of businessmen and financiers, is based on the exploitation of the working class in the factories, mines and transport systems. Incapable of meeting the basic needs of the population, capitalism is a deadly threat to our health and safety. Acts of industrial mass murder such as Lac-Mégantic are written off as collateral damage, accounted for in insurance premiums with the costs fobbed off to small-town governments and the Red Cross—if you’re lucky.
Ed Burkhardt and the Destruction of Public Railways
Edward Burkhardt is now deservedly hated throughout Quebec. Initially, the MMA chairman said baldly that he felt no responsibility for the tragedy. Then he hinted at “sabotage” and blamed firefighters in the nearby town of Nantes, where the train started its uncontrolled descent shortly after one of the badly maintained locomotives caught fire. Finally, he blamed and suspended the engineer, Tom Harding, who, as per company policy, had secured the train for the night and was resting in a local hotel when the tragedy occurred.
This further infuriated the people of Lac-Mégantic, who overwhelmingly refused to blame the overworked Anglo Québécois train operator. As one francophone resident put it when Burkhardt visited the town: “He accuses the little guy who is following company orders.” The mother of a waitress killed at Musi-Café denounced the MMA chair as “a reckless man” who “played—and he is still playing—with people’s lives.” A man who lost three relatives said angrily: “I wanted to see the assassin with my own eyes.”
As a further slap in the face, MMA proceeded to lay off about 80 workers, including 19 in Quebec. Daniel Roy, Quebec director of the Steelworkers union, which organizes MMA workers, reacted:
“We were having trouble doing the work we had to do with the numbers we had…. Now with 19 less, people are worried about safety.
“I’ll tell you that there’s a lot of worker anger towards the company right now.”
—Toronto Sun, 17 July
Having refused to pay a red cent toward the recovery efforts—which will cost upwards of $200 million—MMA has now secured its assets through bankruptcy protection in the U.S. and Canada.
In its ten-year history, this small rail company has set records for accidents and derailments among North American railways. Its rails and signage are so poorly maintained that residents can tell where the CP line ends and MMA starts on the south shore of Montreal. The tracks are so damaged that MMA ordered its operators to slow down to as little as five miles an hour on sections of the line between Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Lac-Mégantic! And this is only a small part of the picture for Burkhardt and Rail World, who specialize in “rescuing” rail lines abandoned by governments and bigger railways and then further driving down safety and work conditions.
In 1996, when Burkhardt headed Wisconsin Central, one of his trains carrying flammable materials derailed in Weyauwega, Wisconsin, causing the evacuation of the entire town for 16 days. The crash was caused by a broken switch-point rail that the company had not properly maintained. A year later, a worker in Fond du Lac, also in Wisconsin, was killed when a Wisconsin Central freight train crashed into a factory. Burkhardt went on to head privatized Tranz Rail in New Zealand, which became notorious for its appalling safety and workplace injury record. He bought up four newly privatized rail companies in Britain, setting up the English, Welsh & Scottish Railway and moving to slash the workforce by nearly 40 percent. He also led the privatized Australian Transport Network and, under Rail World, took over former government-owned lines in Estonia, Poland and Ukraine.
Everywhere, this character has used the same methods of slashing wages and safety measures, with predictable results. Burkhardt is particularly notorious for pushing for one-man crews on freight trains. Kevin Moore, chairman of the union that represents MMA workers in Maine, underlined the obvious: “He thinks when you have two people in the cabin, the second person could be a distraction…. I’ve never seen that. The second person has always been a benefit, not a distraction” (Globe and Mail, 21 July). The Tory government in Ottawa obligingly approved one-man operation for MMA’s trains in Canada.
While MMA and Rail World are particularly vicious in imposing such measures, they are not an aberration. The Canadian rail bosses’ neglect of basic maintenance and safety produces fatality after fatality. The broader toll of industrial death and injury is astronomical. In Ontario, one worker dies from a workplace accident on average every day. Countrywide, about 1,000 workplace deaths are reported annually. The picture is even starker in poor, semicolonial countries: a single factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year killed over 1,100 workers (see “Capitalist Profit Drive Kills,” SC No. 177, Summer 2013). Everywhere, industrial murder is the direct product of the giant capitalist corporations’ drive for ever greater profits.
Expropriate the Railways! For a Planned Socialist Economy!
Key to the beginnings of industrialization and used as a tool of “nation-building” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the history of railway operation in Canada is laid down on a bed of profiteering, corruption, racism and death. In British Columbia, at least 600 Chinese migrant labourers, denied any rights and sent on the most dangerous jobs, died in the construction of Canadian Pacific’s rail line. Trains buried in avalanches, falling into rivers and other tragedies marked the early years of Canadian rail operations. With the aging of the railways, continued neglect in maintenance and staff cutbacks, avoidable tragedies have continued to this day.
CP and the older Grand Trunk Railway in Eastern Canada (later folded into Canadian National) were born of greed and corruption. John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister, was famously driven from office over bribes taken from rail magnates, only to be re-elected later on. To compensate for their “risks,” Canadian Pacific’s owners were given thousands of acres of valuable land where no railways were ever built, ensuring enormous profits for generations of capitalist investors.
The federal government has always doled out grants and enacted policies which guaranteed that money would keep flowing to the rail barons. But provincial and municipal governments have dirty hands as well. In B.C., the highly believable corruption allegations surrounding the sale of government-owned B.C. Rail by the Gordon Campbell Liberals in the early 2000s have not been refuted. As for the Quebec government, its Caisse de Dépôt investment fund invested a cool seven million dollars in (now practically worthless) shares of MMA alone!
From the perspective of the working class, central responsibility for allowing the unending cutbacks, layoffs and criminal indifference to safety pushed by the bosses lies with the trade-union bureaucracy, which has in the main accepted such measures without a fight. Often hiding behind government intervention (railway strikes are usually legislated back to work rapidly), and working with their allies in the social-democratic NDP, the union tops work to promote “labour peace” and the national interests of Canadian capitalism. What’s required is a perspective of hard class struggle against the railway bosses and the government that stands behind them, including by rallying the labour movement when necessary to defy back-to-work laws. A single winning Canada-wide rail strike would do vastly more for safety than tens of thousands of pages of Transportation Safety Board recommendations!
Various petty-bourgeois environmentalists, echoed by self-styled “ecosocialists,” have sought to divert anger over the Lac-Mégantic disaster into campaigns against the transport of fossil fuels. The idea that a modern industrial society could currently do without oil and gas is a utopian fantasy, whose actual consequences would be retrograde for workers and the poor. Everything from food production to construction, transportation and manufacturing industries requires vast quantities of energy. Oil and gas need to be transported, whether by pipelines, trains, trucks or otherwise. The crucial issue for the working class is that this be done safely. That requires strong union power in all the industries concerned, including union safety committees able to shut down operations at any point.
Ultimately, the safe and productive use of natural resources for the benefit of the entire human race can only be ensured once the bourgeois rulers are overthrown. As our comrades of the Spartacist League/U.S. wrote following the massive British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, in which eleven oil workers (and many cleanup employees) died and which caused irreparable environmental damage:
“Industrial murder and environmental devastation are endemic to the workings of the capitalist system. Only when the working class rips industry from the hands of the capitalists and establishes a planned socialist economy on a world scale will the enormous resources of the planet be put to use for all of humanity. When the workers rule, technology and productive resources will be expanded to overcome scarcity and provide a decent life for all. The fight for a socialist future requires forging revolutionary workers parties that will lead all the exploited and oppressed in proletarian revolution.”
—“Gulf Coast Disaster: Capitalist Profit Drive Kills,” Workers Vanguard No. 961, 2 July 2010
North Dakota train explosion raises questions about oil transport safety
by Jeff Lusanne
(No verified email address)
22 Jun 2014
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World Socialist Web Site
4 January 2014
A train carrying oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota derailed near Casselton, ND, Monday, in the second major recent train derailment and explosion of Bakken oil.
A train of crude oil and a train of soybeans were passing in opposite directions when a car of soybeans derailed and hit the passing oil train. The oil train then derailed, leading to series of blasts that shook nearby residences and sent a tower of thick, black smoke into the sky.
By evening, thousands of residents within 5 miles south and east of Casselton were told to evacuate, and residents within 10 miles were told to remain indoors. Emergency crews worked overnight to put out the fires, allowing residents to return the next afternoon.
Luckily, neither the train crew or town residents were injured. If the blast had occurred inside Casselton, the story would have ended far worse. The crew of the oil train managed to escape the lead engines, which soon were burned into charred hulks by the fire. Early reports indicate that the crew of the soybean train, once stopped, heroically left their engines to board the rear engine of the oil train and pull some 60 cars of unexploded oil away from the fire.
The disaster follows a similar derailment and explosion of Bakken crude that occurred on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train ran away and derailed at high speed in the town. An enormous explosion followed, resulting in the deaths of 47 town residents.
The boom in Bakken crude oil production in the United States and Canada has led to a dramatic rise in transportation of oil by rail. Bakken crude is produced from a rock formation in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with North Dakota as the leading producer. While traditional oil wells drill straight down to access a region of oil, production in the Bakken region has required recent advances in the technology of hydraulic fracturing—where highly pressurized liquid is injected into rock to fracture (“frack”) it, allowing otherwise inaccessible oil and gas to seep out.
Using this method, oil production is relatively decentralized, with thousands of individual wells contributing to the region’s output. Oil is often transported by a pipeline running from the source to a refinery or port. Plans to build an extension of the Keystone XL pipeline from the Bakken region to the Gulf Coast has been stalled amid concerns over its environmental impact. In the meantime, Bakken production has expanded beyond the existing capacity of pipelines, leading to a rapid rise in the transport of crude by rail.
Rail is more expensive than pipelines, but buyers and speculators have found an advantage to its flexibility. Rail terminals and capacity can be expanded faster than a pipeline can be built, and the crude being produced can change destination on the whim of the markets.
Bakken oil is largely “sweet crude,” meaning that it contains a low percentage of impurities like sulfur, making it ideal for refining into gasoline, diesel, and other fuels. Much of the Bakken crude being produced is headed by rail to newly reopened or expanded refineries on the East Coast, which are switching away from higher-priced imported sweet crude, in the move toward “energy independence” championed by the Obama Administration.
In North Dakota, production has gone from under 100,000 barrels per day in 2008 to over 800,000 barrels per day in 2013, making it the second-largest oil producing state after Texas. Workers from across the country, facing mass unemployment, are taking their chances to get high-paying industrial jobs at the wells, as truck drivers and at transload terminals.
Housing and social services have failed to keep up. Some workers end up paying exorbitant long term rates to stay in motels, or use RVs and campers in one of the coldest regions of the US. Rents have soared for local residents, and school districts are struggling to expand to accommodate new students. Residents also worry about the health effects of the chemicals used in the fracking process, which may be polluting the water table.
With the second major Bakken oil derailment and explosion, transportation experts and residents across the country are seeing the potential risk of the expansion of oil-by-rail traffic.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived on Tuesday to investigate the explosion in Casselton, and said that its preliminary findings point to possible mechanical or equipment failures. Investigators found a broken axle, but the investigation is ongoing.
Aside from these issues, there is the question of the explosiveness of the oil. The July 6 derailment made clear that Bakken crude was far more volatile than producers and shippers had admitted.
An Irving Oil refinery in St. John, NB, Canada, was the intended recipient of the oil that spilled and exploded in Lac-Megantic. The Globe and Mail reported a representative of the refinery had said at in industry conference that the refinery was receiving tank cars that contained “contaminants,” “sludge,” and other “unknown substances.” Furthermore, the oil in a given car was sometimes combined from several sources, making it even more difficult to determine its makeup.
The presentation concluded that the makeup of the oil was not being properly identified and tested prior to shipment—which raised safety concerns—but despite that, the company continued to accept shipments and Canadian and US regulatory authorities did not institute rules that addressed the concerns.
In reaction to the latest derailment, on Thursday the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert noting that “recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”
The wording of the statement makes clear that the there was no rigorous investigation into the transport of Bakken crude prior to the rapid rise in its transport by rail and agencies are now working to catch up. Producers and railroads are not waiting for the results, however. Second quarter 2013 crude-by-rail shipments hit a record 117,509 carloads, compared to 53,163 carloads in the second quarter of 2012.
Aside from the chemical makeup of the oil, the initial NTSB comments on the Casselton derailment also indicated that the tank cars of the oil train are a notoriously unsafe design known as DOT-111. This design represents a majority of the tank cars carrying both crude oil and ethanol in North America, and lacks updated safety standards to reduce the risk of spillage or damage in the event of a derailment. Even the Association of American Railroads, an industry association, admits that only 30 percent of cars carrying crude meet the updated safety standards.
Canada: Safety Board issues tepid call for more oversight in wake of rail disaster
by Carl Bronski
(No verified email address)
22 Jun 2014
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World Socialist Web Site 24 July 2013
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is urging Transport Canada—the federal department responsible for setting railway regulations—to make “urgent” regulatory changes to improve railway safety in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic train disaster. 47 people were killed and the downtown core of Lac-Mégantic was incinerated, when an unmanned Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) runaway train comprised of scores of oil tankers careened into the small Quebec town, derailed, and exploded in the early morning hours of July 6.
Considering the extensive and well-documented history of recent railway accidents in Canada and the lengthy paper trail of warnings regarding the dangers associated with a deregulated system that allows for railway companies to largely devise and police their own safety provisions, last week’s advisory from the TSB was quite tame.
Beginning with the patently obvious, the TSB wrote, “As this accident has demonstrated, accidents involving trains carrying dangerous goods can have tragic consequences.” The advisory then continued, “Given the importance to the safe movement of dangerous goods and the vulnerability of unattended equipment, Transport Canada may wish to consider reviewing all railway operating procedures to ensure that trains carrying (dangerous goods) are not left unattended on the main track.”
In the Lac-Mégantic disaster, a lone engineer, after a grueling shift, single-handedly parked his 72-car train on the main line with the locomotive engine still in operation, set locomotive air brakes and, according to his statement, also set eleven railcar hand brakes. He then retired to a local hotel for the night. All of his actions—including the parking of the train on a steep grade, which made it much more difficult to secure, but much cheaper to restart at the beginning of the next engineer’s shift—would appear to have been in accordance with MMA’s standard operating practices.
When a small fire subsequently broke out in the unattended locomotive engine, a local fire crew extinguished the blaze, but also reportedly disabled the running engine which would have reduced locomotive air-brake pressure and placed more stress on the on the individual cars.
Due to the deregulation of rail industry operating procedures, Transport Canada does not approve the standard practices of railway companies nor does it issue specific guidelines on parking a train on a main line, leaving a train unmanned or on the number of to be applied. A Transport Canada spokesperson told Canada’s national broadcaster the CBC last week that it “does not validate the specific instructions of a railway company. It is the responsibility of a railway company to establish their special instructions and to ensure that they meet the requirements of the Canadian Rail Operating Rules.”
Those rules do not specify the number of hand brakes that should be applied, nor provide any guidelines as to how that number should be determined. They simply affirm that “sufficient” hand-braking must be applied to secure a train. Acknowledging that the current regulation is without substance, TSB manager Ed Belkaloul told a press conference last Friday, “The rule currently states that a sufficient number of brakes needs to be set; that’s the problem with the rule.”
In its two letters of last week to Transport Canada, the TSB said it has determined that the number of hand brakes set on the MMA train were “insufficient” to prevent it careening down a hill into Lac-Megantic. But it has yet to determine if this was because not enough hand brakes were applied or because the brakes were in some way faulty.
MMA, for its part, has been desperately trying to shift blame and legal liability for the accident onto others. Without providing any evidence, it has publicly accused the train’s engineer of failing to set the number of hand brakes stipulated by company policy.
While full details of the specific and immediate causes for the Lac-Mégantic tragedy have yet to be determined by investigators, what is clear is that a decades-long process of railway de-regulation and corporate cost-cutting has placed the lives of rail crew members and the general public increasingly in danger.
Railroad safety in Canada has been deregulated under successive Liberal and Conservative governments since the 1990s. Today railway companies largely carry out their own inspections of processes, equipment and infrastructure. This so-called self-regulation is simply a carte blanche for corporations to continue to cut safety corners to burnish their bottom lines.
In an interview with CBC shortly after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, MMA Chairman Edward Burkhardt explained why MMA trains are left unattended. The two percent additional cost to hire security to guard unattended trains would force the company to raise its freight rates by two percent, thereby possibly losing customers and reducing company profits.
Burkhardt is no stranger to bottom-line calculations. He has pioneered, with the support of the Harper government, the switch to the one-person train operation for MMA lines and has been the “poster boy” for privatization, one-person “crews” and other cost-cutting measures in Europe and New Zealand.
In the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, he issued layoff notices to 79 of MMA’s 179 employees in Quebec and Maine, including many of those who work to ensure track safety and maintenance. Burkhardt had already suspended without pay, Tom Harding, the driver of the train, and stated he probably would never get his job back. Harding, who rushed to the scene of the explosion to pull unpunctured oil tankers from the inferno, has been termed a hero by several eyewitnesses.
It is no coincidence that the week following the Quebec disaster, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a cabinet reshuffle, appointed Lisa Raitt as the new Transportation Minister. As Labour Minister, Raitt spearheaded the attack on striking Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) railway workers in 2012, authoring back-to-work legislation. The railway workers had rejected company contract concessions that sought to drastically reduce pensions and further enshrine speed-up work rules that they insisted would further compromise safety.
With the strike defeated, CP—Canada’s second largest railway—has proceeded to lay off 3,000 of its 19,500 personnel, and CEO Hunter Harrison has said the layoffs might ultimately rise to 6,000, or 30 percent of the workforce. CP workers now have longer hours at more irregular times, and their pensions have been cut. CP has combined trains to run them longer and save on crews, closed down railroad yards, and avoided significant investment towards upgrading its tracks.
The Harper government has been active on many fronts to aid and abet the rail companies. It has granted MMA and another regional carrier the right to operate with a one-person “crew.” And despite the dramatic increase in the shipment of hazardous materials, funding to Transport Canada for spot inspections has been continually slashed. The overall budget allocated by the Harper Conservatives to the Transportation Department has been reduced by 30 percent in the last year alone. In 2011 an auditor-general’s report concluded, “Transport Canada has not designed and implemented the management practices needed to effectively monitor regulatory compliance” of dangerous goods transport.
Recommendations by Safety Boards to rail companies to update rail safety technologies are not implemented. Technological advances, for instance, allow for the installation of automatic switching devices that would allow for the redirection of unauthorized trains—like the runaway Lac-Mégantic train—to safe-port sidings.
Replacement of the prone-to-puncture DOT-111 tanker car—the most heavily used vehicle type in the industry (and that used by MMA on its ill-fated Lac Mégantic train)—has proceeded at a snail’s pace. With companies complaining of the expense involved in eliminating the DOT-111s, the government has stipulated that they only need be replaced with safer, thicker-walled tanker cars when they are retired from service.
The Lac-Mégantic tragedy was not an aberration—a freak accident—as the government and many of the country’s editorialists would have the population believe. The dismantling of regulatory oversight, decaying railway infrastructure and speed-up and otherwise oppressive working conditions are the outcome of decades of government deregulation and privatization and the unfettered pursuit of profit by the rail bosses.