Risky Rail Shipments of LPG and LNG

(Republished blog from November 10, 2019)

UPDATE: Since this blog was posted, the Trump administration pushed through new rules that allow rail shipments of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) that took effect in August 2020.

Friday November 8, 2019 – Luckily, when a train of crude oil tank cars rear-ended an intermodal train this afternoon, the tank cars were empty and no injuries were reported. One only needs remember the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Canada to realize how differently this Hempfield, Pa. train wreck might have ended.

Image: Hazmat placard 1267 on crude oil tank cars

Paul Peirce of the Tribune-Review on Friday’s train wreck:

3 trains derail in Hempfield; 50 railroad cars jump tracks; no injuries reported
Three Norfolk Southern Corp. mixed-freight trains were involved in a derailment about three miles east of Greensburg on Friday that derailed 50 shipping containers, blocking both rail lines that carry freight and passenger traffic on the heavily-traveled route between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the railroad said. A westbound freight train transporting empty crude oil tank cars from Altoona to the huge rail yard in Conway, Beaver County, collided with the rear of a westbound intermodal train that carries trailers that will be hauled by big rig trucks. Two locomotives pulling the crude oil cars were knocked off the track, but remained upright.” Source

Conway Railyard with black crude oil and LPG tank cars. Recent pipeline problems have led to more of these products travelling across Pennsylvania by rail. The cracker plant, now under construction north of Pittsburgh, will add its own fleet of railcars to the mix.

Image: Conway Railyard with black crude oil and LPG tank cars. Recent pipeline problems have led to more of these products travelling across Pennsylvania by rail. The cracker plant, now under construction north of Pittsburgh, will add its own fleet of railcars to the mix.

Friday’s train wreck took place within one mile of Clairview School, Pressley Ridge Day School, and the busy Route 30 corridor with multiple restaurants and businesses, and about one mile from the Westmoreland Mall.

As dangerous as oil tank car wrecks can be, there are likely far more tank cars hauling LPG in Pennsylvania. When wrecks occur with these railcars, it can lead to a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion or BLEVE, which is “an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached temperatures above its boiling point.”


Image: Hazmat placard 1075 used on tank cars hauling propane

Bob Bauder of the Tribune-Review followed-up on a August 2018 Pittsburgh derailment:

Rail agency blames Station Square derailment on broken rail, inspector oversights
An inspector for a Kansas-based company committed “serious oversights” in Pittsburgh last year by failing to recognize a broken rail about three weeks before it caused a major derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight near Station Square. The 11-page report by the Federal Railroad Administration blames the broken rail for the Aug. 5, 2018 derailment. It says a track inspector for Sperry Rail Services should have recognized the problem during ultrasound testing on July 20. The company inspects that portion of track twice weekly. The derailment knocked seven double-stack cars off the track, several of which tumbled over an embankment nearly colliding with a Port Authority light rail station. It disrupted T service for nearly three weeks, caused $1.8 million in damages to Port Authority equipment and about $1 million in damages for Norfolk Southern. Source


Jon Schmitz of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on another 2014 Pittsburgh area train wreck:

Train carrying crude oil derails in Vandergrift
February 13, 2014 – Twenty-one cars of a freight train hauling oil and gas derailed this morning in Vandergrift, striking a building that houses a specialty metals firm. The 120-car Norfolk Southern Railway train with three locomotives was headed east around 8 a.m. when it derailed. Nineteen of the 21 derailed cars overturned. 19 of the derailed cars were carrying a type of crude oil that is thick enough to be lifted with a shovel. An undetermined amount leaked from three cars but was contained before it entered any water source. Two other derailed cars had liquid propane. Source

Finally, this worrisome story by Jeff Martin of the Associated Press in 2017…

Railroad sues over millions of rail ties it calls defective
October 30, 2017 – One of the nation’s largest railroads must replace millions of defective wooden railroad ties on its tracks because they’re degrading faster than expected, the company said in a federal lawsuit. Norfolk Southern Railway blames an Alabama company that produced its railroad ties of failing to use proper protective coating on more than 4.7 million of them, the railroad said in its lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court in Alabama. From 2009 to 2014, Boatright provided Norfolk Southern with nearly 5 million railroad ties, and virtually all of them were installed in the railroad’s network, the lawsuit said. About 4.5 million of them are described as cross ties; and 193,000 are switch ties. Also included in the total are about 72,000 inferior bridge ties, according to the suit. Source

Fortunately, this latest train wreck in Hempfield didn’t end in tragedy, but next time we might not be so lucky.
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