Pennsylvania’s governor issues crude-by-rail study he commissioned

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issued a study he commissioned in late April of issues stemming from the growing number of crude oil shipments by rail across the state. The report by Allan M. Zarembski, who directs the Railroad Engineering Program at the University of Delaware’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, made 27 recommendations including calls for more frequent track inspections and adoption of several voluntary safety measures.

“Every week, roughly 60-70 trains carrying crude oil travel through Pennsylvania destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery, and I have expressed grave concern regarding the transportation of this oil and have taken several steps to prevent potential oil train derailments,” Wolf said as he released the report on Aug. 17.

“Protecting Pennsylvanians is my top priority and Dr. Zarembski’s report is important in helping my administration take the necessary steps,” he said. “I will also continue to work with [CSX Corp.] and [Norfolk Southern Railway], both of which have demonstrated concern for rail safety and an interest in working with my administration.”

Wolf said he sent letters to CSX and Norfolk Southern in May urging them to adopt improved safety initiatives for all trains with crude-by-rail cars operating in Pennsylvania and to fully and expeditiously comply with the final rule the US Department of Transportation issued this past spring (OGJ Online, May 1, 2015).

He also wrote US President Barack Obama earlier, urging adoption of federal regulations to prevent derailments and improve safety of trains transporting crude (OGJ Online, Mar. 2, 2015).

What recommendations included

Zarembski’s report addressed derailment risks, tank car breach and rupture risks, and regulatory oversight. It also considered proposed DOT and rail industry standards for tank car design and train operations and operating systems to include speed reduction, use of Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) Brakes and Positive Train Control (PTC).

The study’s recommendations were divided into 18 primary and 9 secondary actions. The first were actions that could be expected to have direct safety results and be implemented by the railroads working directly with Pennsylvania’s government or by the commonwealth itself. Secondary categories included activities that are more difficult to implement or that may require action by a party other than the railroad or the commonwealth.

Primary recommendations included maintaining minimum surface defect rates on routes oil trains travel, requiring railroads test track geometry at least 4 times/year and use a vision-based joint bar inspection system at least once yearly instead of on-foot inspections that the US Federal Railroad Administration requires, and NS and CSX adopting BNSF Railway’s voluntary reduction of a 35 mph speed limit for trains carrying crude through cities with a population of 100,000 or higher.

They also included requiring a railroad to have at least one Wheel Impact Load Detector (WILD) Unit in place to monitor cars loaded with crude so that any route location have a WILD unit no more than 200 miles preceding (in the loaded direction) that location. It recommended that a railroad have sufficient Hot Bearing Detector (HBD) units in place to monitor crude-bearing trains within Pennsylvania, with a maximum 25 miles between HBDs, and at least one Acoustic Bearing Detector unit.

The study also recommended that the commonwealth designate appropriate state officials to help the railroads complete an initial analysis of high-hazard flammable train routes through Pennsylvania. “It is recommended that Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission inspectors, in co-ordination with FRA inspectors, focus on inspection of major [crude-by-rail] routes, to include track, equipment, hazmat, and operating practices,” it said.

Contact Nick Snow at

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