By William E. Cleary Sr.
You didn’t need anyone to tell you about that surge in train traffic if you live anywhere near the rail line that runs between Camden City, Glassboro and beyond. Freight trains as long as 90 cars and higher have been traveling up and down that route on a daily basis both night and day. Coming through Gloucester City in the early morning hours the engineers on those trains blow the train whistle from the time they enter the City until they leave it. Many of those freight
trains are coming and going from the Eagle Point Refinery in West Deptford/Westville that is owned by Sunoco Logistics. The tanker cars are carrying shale, petrol-chemicals and natural gas by-products from North Dakota and Western Pennsylvania.
Should you be concerned? SEE REPORT HERE
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has said that the older DOT-111 model tank cars are not safe – valve fittings snap off and the steel shells are too thin to withstand bursting open during derailments and crashes. The majority of tank cars on U.S. tracks are the DOT-111s, as is the case in Canada.
There are 335,000 active tank cars, of which 228,000 are the DOT-111s. About 92,000 of them carry flammable liquids including crude oil and ethanol, but only about 14,000 are up to industry safety standards, according to the Association of American Railroads.
With that thought in mind we reached out to Conrail, via Email, to find out what type of tank cars they are using to transport their product to the refinery. There are times when those trains have blocked auto traffic in Westville on Route 45 and Crown Point Road for 20 minutes or more. We asked John Enright, the spokesperson for Sunoco, about those problems along with some other questions.
QUESTION: The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has said that the older DOT-111 model tank cars are not safe – valve fittings snap off and the steel shells are too thin to withstand bursting open during derailments and crashes. The majority of tank cars on U.S. tracks are the DOT-111s, as is the case in Canada. What type of tanker car is Conrail using to carrying the cargo that is being carried to and from the Eagle Point Refinery? Is it the older DOT-111 model tank car?
- ENRIGHT: These are private tank cars and not owned by Conrail. I do not know whether they are all DOT-111’s or whether some of the newer type cars are being used.
Question: How many tanker cars travel in and out of the (Sunoco Logistics) site on a daily basis during the day? And at night?
- ENRIGHT: Homeland security regulations prohibit Conrail from disclosing such information which, in addition, is proprietary to Sunoco. A few months ago, the USDOT issued an emergency order requiring railroads to report crude oil shipments exceeding certain volumes to State Emergency Response Commissions. Conrail has been complying with that Emergency Order since it went into effect. Conrail does not disclose specific information regarding train movements for homeland security reasons.
Question:What is carried in the tanker cars? Is it oil? Or methane gas?
- ENRIGHT: See my response to your first question
Question: Is the public in any danger?
- ENRIGHT: Safety is Conrail’s first priority and it endeavors to conduct its operations in a safe and responsible manner.
Question: There are times when trains coming in and out of the Sunoco site have blocked auto traffic for 20 minutes or more. Are there any plans in the future to rectify that situation?
- ENRIGHT: Sunoco is in the design phase of certain improvements to the track configuration leading into their facility. Those improvements, which are scheduled to be completed in 2015, should facilitate train movements into the facility.
Question: There is a hospital a few miles from the Eagle Point site in Woodbury. If there was an emergency is there a plan in place to break the train to allow an ambulance or fire engine to pass?
- ENRIGHT: In the event of an emergency where emergency responders need to access a rail crossing, Conrail will clear the crossing either by breaking the train or otherwise clear the crossing as soon as practicable.
Question: If a train derailment causes an explosion what safety measures are in place to protect the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the tracks and Sunoco’s Eagle Point Plant?
- ENRIGHT: The question is better asked of the emergency responders in the community. Of course. In the event of derailment or other rail related incident, Conrail will work with and otherwise cooperate fully with local, state and federal emergency responders.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our research for this story revealed that there are problems with our nation’s rail lines and with some of the outdated tanker cars that are being used to haul dangerous chemicals. Safety is an issue everyone should worry about. Reach out to your local government, fire departments and your federal and state representatives and insist that they keep after the railroad industry to do a better job of maintaining the railroad tracks. And demand that the old DOT-111’s tanker cars are put out of service.
We have lived a few blocks from the rail line in Gloucester City for 70 years and never remember any serious train derailments. That is not to say they don’t happen. Who could forget the Conrail train derailment in Paulsboro in November 2012? We, like our neighbors, knew that there was railroad close to our home when we moved here. And we have no qualms about our choice.
Lastly we are happy that Sunoco Logistics and Conrail are busy. More people are working as a result.
REPORT ON PAULSBORO TRAIN ACCIDENT RELEASED
In August the National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the train derailment in Paulsboro that happened on November 30, 2012. The National Transportation Safety Board stated the probable cause of the derailment and subsequent hazardous material release at the Paulsboro moveable bridge was Consolidated Rail Corporation (1) allowing the train to proceed past the red signal aspect with the rail slide locks not fully engaged, which allowed the bridge to rotate and misalign the running rails as the train moved across it, and, (2) relying on a training and qualification program that did not prepare the train crew to examine the bridge lock system.
Contributing to the accident was the lack of a comprehensive safety management program that would have identified and mitigated the risks associated with the continued operation of the bridge despite multiple bridge malfunctions of increasing frequency.
Contributing to the consequences of the accident was the failure of the incident commander to implement established hazardous materials response protocols for worker protection and community exposure to the vinyl chloride release.
A synopsis of the NTSB report, including the probable cause, findings, and a complete list of the safety recommendations, is available at https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/2014/paulsboro_nj/abstract.html.