By Patrick Mazza for Grist – Railroads have become a nexus of controversy in recent years due to their role in transporting climate-twisting fossil fuels. But they could become a locomotive driving the growth of clean energy. That is the aim of a new proposal to electrify railroads, run them on renewable energy, and use rail corridors as electricity superhighways to carry power from remote solar and wind installations to population centers. The proposal, called Solutionary Rail, has been developed by a team of rail experts, economists, and public interest advocates assembled by the Washington state–based Backbone Campaign.
By Natasha Geiling for Think Progress – A little over a month after a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed outside of the tiny Oregon known of Mosier, the Department of Transportation has announced new rules aimed at ensuring that communities near oil train routes have adequate information and help in the event of an oil derailment. The new rules would, among other things, require railroad companies that ship oil by rail to come up with response plans in case of a worst-case scenario oil spill — something that most railroad companies are not currently required to do.
By Staff of AFP – The train, carrying 32 containers of commercial products from eastern Zhejiang province, took 14 days to make the 9,500-kilometre journey through Kazakstan and Turkmenistan. “The arrival of this train in less than 14 days is unprecedented,” said the head of the Iranian railway company, Mohsen Pourseyed Aqayi. “The revival of the Silk Road is crucial for the countries on its route,” he said at a ceremony at Tehran’s rail station attended by the ambassadors of China and Turkmenistan.
It has been a week now since Amtrak Train #188 derailed at speed east of Philadelphia, PA. The last week has witnessed endless speculation as the official investigation into the cause of the derailment continues apace. Those of us in the rail industry anxiously await the findings. If we are serious about preventing future catastrophes of this nature, we must equip railroad workers with the necessary tools – including but not limited to those outlined above — to enable them to perform the job safely. Pointing fingers at this or that employee (at any level in the company, union or management) might make some folks feel better, but it does little or nothing to prevent future accidents. Railroad Workers United believes it is time we learn from these terrible tragedies and get serious about implementing the necessary measures to ensure safe railroad operations.
Solutionary Rail envisions a national effort to electrify U.S. rail lines beginning with a successful demonstration on the BNSF Northern Transcon from Seattle to Chicago. The backbone of a sustainable system for national freight transport will be a system of electrified rail corridors. The approximate target for rail electrification in the U.S. is reflected in the Department of Defense’s designation of 32,421 miles of major rail corridors as the Strategic Rail Corridor Network. Other rail lines generally do not have enough traffic to economically support electrification. Assuming a single electrification team can complete 50 miles of corridor electrification annually, and that four teams are working, 2,400 miles can be completed in five years. That would electrify the entire length of the Northern Transcon, including multiple routes in some regions. Solutionary Rail envisions electrified locomotives employing renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels, sources that are now becoming economically competitive with fossil-generated electricity. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates potential electricity generation from wind in just the Dakotas and Texas is three times greater than electricity currently consumed annually in the United States.
Single employee train crews are unsafe and dangerous for the crews that operate them, other railroad workers, those living along the tracks, motorists and pedestrians, for the community in general and society at large. Combining both current jobs (conductor and engineer) into one will mean more crew fatigue, less focus, more distraction and a decline in operator situational awareness. The loss of that second pair of eyes and eyes would result in a decline in safety on the railroad and would be a detriment to national security and public safety. Single employee trains crews are unsafe and inefficient in all but the most routine and straight forward railroad work. For many if not most tours-of-duty, they would present complex challenges for the train’s lone operator. Single crew operations will result in a loss of valuable informal education of train crews both new and old, and lead to less capable and knowledgeable crew members in general as a result. Finally, loneliness, isolation and a loss of comradery and spirit would be the inevitable result, bringing with it mental problems, job dissatisfaction, and staff turnover.
Environmental groups say the Obama administration’s new crude-by-rail regulations (pdf), proposed Wednesday, don’t go nearly far enough to reduce the risk posed by hazardous rail cars carrying oil and ethanol across long distances. The proposed rules, which include a phase-out of older tank cars and new brake controls and speed restrictions, come in the wake of a crude-by-rail boom that’s led to an increase in derailments and disasters like the one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last year that killed 47 people. A train carrying crude oil derailed in Seattle on Thursday, with no spills or injuries reported. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) acknowledges: “The safety risk presented by transporting Bakken crude oil by rail is magnified both by an increasing volume of Bakken being shipped by throughout the U.S. and the large distances over which the product is shipped. In 2008, 9,500 rail-carloads of crude moved through our country compared to last year, when there were 415,000 rail-carloads.” But the DOT’s proposal, which will now go through a 60-day comment period, doesn’t reflect that level of urgency, environmentalists say.
J.J. Giuliano has been local chairman of the Selkirk unit of Albany, N.Y., Local 770 since 2003. Keeping his members safe is Giuliano’s top priority, and along with the leaders of the other trades at Selkirk, he sat on the shop’s safety committee. “For 10 years we made recommendations to management and for 10 years not one of them was funded by the company,” Giuliano said. “I stayed on because I wanted to look out for my guys. But at a certain point we were letting the company get away with avoiding solving safety problems.” In September 2013, Giuliano was done with the charade. He sent a letter to the plant superintendent telling him that he was quitting the committee. He listed 21 safety violations that threatened the health of IBEW members, public safety or both that had repeatedly been brought to the company’s attention and never fixed.