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Bomb Trains – The Crude Gamble Of Oil By Rail

by on August 15, 2014

Bomb Trains, The Crude Gamble Of Oil By Rail, by Vice News, is a 23 minute journey into the troubling safety problems surrounding the boom in rail oil shipments. It’s a dire warning for communities facing massive amounts of flammable product being transported in their midst, without prior and open public consultation, and without sufficient infrastructure in place in the event of yet another catastrophic oil train accident.

Set primarily in the Seattle, Washington area and the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the message and the problems associated with shipping oil by rail are virtually the same on both sides of the border.

This short film addresses the issues surrounding the use of defective DOT-111 oil tankers, problems with their repair or replacement, as well as the veil of secrecy under which the growth of rail oil shipments have taken place, with communities being the last to know what’s going on right under their own noses.

It’s a must-watch for anyone concerned about the growth of crude oil shipments by rail, and well worth the time to do so.



© Copyright 2014

  1. Walter Pfefferle permalink

    More scare tactics. Trucks have been transporting explosives and dangerous chemicals past your front door since they invented trucks. Trains have been doing the same thing. Nothing is 100% safe. Lac Megantic brought into the open the danger of this new oil and railways are acting as fast as they can to make their trains safe. Pipelines leak and explode also.
    As long as the world demands more oil these trains will just keep rolling even if the pipeline is built and the new rail cars will make them safer.Lac Megantic was a horrible disaster but took a multitude of errors to make it happen and the chance of it happening again are very low.
    Using it as a means of spreading false information does nothing to solve the issue.

    • trainjane permalink

      Scare tactics? I don’t think so. Call it a consequence of failing to be open and honest with the public of a change in rail operations that significantly affects them, by an industry that has not earned their confidence in this venture.
      That total lack of transparency has resulted in a fierce backlash at the rail industry which has a lot of work to do in order to win over the public.
      Deflecting the problem over to pipelines and the trucking industry is not going to get rail off the hot seat on this one. Greater accountability, transparency, consultation,
      and massive improvements to infrastructure would be good starting points for an industry that is finding out that this problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon by ignoring public stakeholders.

      • Walter Pfefferle permalink

        To be fair, the transport of large amount of oil happened overnight and caught everyone off guard. The explosive nature of the Bakken oil was also not fully understood until Lac Megantic. Railways have responded with slower speeds, newer tank cars and other improvements but replacing up to 40,000 tank cars is not something that happens overnight.
        Pipelines have their own problems and have had many spills and explosions.
        If we cannot transport oil by train or pipeline, what is the alternative?
        Maybe you don’t like it but transport of oil will continue and the only sound choice is to make it a s safe as possible.

        • trainjane permalink

          Mr. Pfefferle, I don’t think that it is so much a case of how the railways have responded to this problem,it’s more a case of being ordered to make changes.

          As for the explosive nature of Bakken crude not being fully understood until Lac Megantic, that’s part of the problem in itself. How can the public have any confidence in rail handling massive amounts of product that has not been properly understood first? Not understanding how volatile that crude was cost people their lives, and threatened the lives of first responders. That’s unacceptable, to put it mildly. Profits before safety is no way to handle freight.

          And it’s not so much a matter of what I don’t like, Mr. Pfefferle. The public in general is very concerned about shipping crude by rail. Since Lac Megantic, the opposition has not quietened down and blown over, as rail seems to have hoped; awareness and opposition has only increased.

          • Walter Pfefferle permalink

            Instead of just repeating something that was said in some news story, why do you not suggest alternatives to transporting oil since rail and pipelines are on your no no list.

            The demand of the public and industry is what drives this lust for oil and Lac Megantic will not stop. Even though people complain about it, I don’t see them willing to give up their two cars, all the electric appliances, boats and other things that require oil and its by products. Until that happens those oil bombs as you call them will just keep running by your door.

          • trainjane permalink

            We quote from media sources and credit them accordingly as that is what we feel is appropriate. The inclusion of various media is in order to to demonstrate the growing support for the opinions which we hold as cornerstones to our site.

            However, we never could have anticipated the sea of change that has swept across both the rail sector and the court of public opinion since this blog began.

            The issues debated and discussed in this blog are no longer peripheral ones, but are now decidedly mainstream. When we started Rail and Reason, the majority of people residing in communities that have a rail presence gave little thought as to the nature of what was being transported through their towns and cities, and its potential impact upon them.

            That’s all changed now. It will be very hard for rail to regain the complacency many people felt about rail operations prior to Lac Megantic.

            Rail operations, in my opinion, will continue to be in the public spotlight for the foreseeable future.

            As the devastating impact of fossil fuels becomes more evident, the push will be to more sustainable forms of energy wherever possible. Our family farm now uses geothermal heat. Numerous friends are investing in solar technologies. It’s happening all over. Look around you, outside of Mr. Willsie’s rail yard.

            So now that we have figured out how to process Tar Sand Crude, this and other dirty forms of energy such as coal face a big push to find new overseas markets where environmental regulations are lax, demand is high, and consideration for how the use of these products will affect human health long term hasn’t even really registered.

            After all, none of those behind the production and shipment of these energy sources have to bear any responsibility for how they get used. It’s as if we don’t all share the same planet and breathe the air.

            Yes, it’s rail to the rescue, shipping goey bitumen and coal by diesel.

            Future generations will shake their heads at such flat earth society thinking.

    • Less excuses more improvement in rail infrastructure. The sooner the rail industry accepts that the sooner they can get back to business.

  2. Yes dangerous materials are being shipped throughout Canada everyday but is it too much to ask that it is done so in the safest way possible? In Texas this type of crude oil is required to be refined on site in order to remove the volatile gases that are characteristic to this specific crude. Bakken crude oil is directly put on rail cars without such refining. In May of last year Enbridge refused to ship Bakken crude by pipeline citing it was too dangerous and volatile to ship by pipeline. Sadly, if not for Lac Megantic we still wouldn’t know how little oversight there is in terms of rail transport.
    Had the crude been required to be properly refined, proper regulations (ie. 2 man crew proper maintanence etc..) and had safe rail car been required prior to the increase (began about 5 years ago) in the shipment of this type of crude the horrible loss that Lac Megantic had to endure may have been mitigated. On the question of transparency…..none of the communities along the rail line were afforded the opportunity to provide input when the decision was made to allow unsafe crude to be shipped in unsafe rail cars through their communities. The Transportation Safety Board has been warning that the DOT-111 rail cars are defective and unsafe to carry hazardous materials for the last 2 decades. Our governments have done nothing to have these removed from service. Our federal government has also made it difficult for the public to have a say in any new regulations in regards to both The Railway Safety Act and The Transport of Dangerous Goods Act. As of June 19 of this year Transport Canada is no longer required to disclose any new regulation in advance90 day period for the public to have a say was also repealed. The government buried these changes in Bill C-31. The Department of Transportation in the U.S allows the public 60 days to voice their concerns. Our government has decided that less transparency is the way to go. All for an industry that relies on a business model that dictates that unnecessary risk be accepted by people living along rail communities across North America. The rules to rail go back to confederation, I would argue that society has gone through many changes in that time and the rules should reflect these changes. Yes, we have allowed hazardous materials to be shipped by rail for many years but with the understanding that public safety is at the centre of any decisions made. In 2009 there were only 500 of these shipments throughout Canada by rail; in 2013 there were 140000 and in 2016 it’s projected to be 510000. These are the rail industries own numbers. Given the increase in the shipment of this crude oil, why is the public who live along the rail lines not afforded the opportunity to voice their concerns about such a fundamental change to rail transport. Many are told to just move………………my answer to that is why should we move? Why not put public safety first and require all involved to do everything possible to make it safe….no matter what the cost. Our communities should not be sacrificed in the name of profit.

    • trainjane permalink

      Thank you for your very well-stated comment. One point that you brought up was an inaccessibility for the public to comment on proposed changes to key Acts and Regulations regarding rail safety. I’ll be taking a closer look at this. Thanks again for all of the information.

  3. Lara permalink

    Wow! Thank you for all you do. You’ve changed lives including all of ours in Inglewood/Calgary. 🙂 We will meet one day. I know this.

    Lara ryan-murphy construction inc. 403.542.7530


    • trainjane permalink

      Thank you very much. It’s receiving feedback such as this that makes this site so personally worthwhile! I am so glad to have been able to help!

    • Walter Pfefferle permalink

      Make sure you fill up with gas and drive in that car made from about 60% of items made from oil when you go to meet.

      • trainjane permalink

        Better yet, opt to take public transport at least part of the trip in order to be mindful in reducing one’s carbon footprint whenever reasonably possible.

        Does Mr. Willsie still take a locomotive out to get coffee at Tim Horton’s, or have we had any positive effect on Ontario Southland Railway at all?

        Just wondering.

        • Walter Pfefferle permalink

          You are just jealous. That was years ago and was no big deal, how about something new. You forget to mention that since Ontario Southland built their shop in Salford they now employee over 50 people and put many dollars into the local economy. They have grown and added new businesses and will be soon hauling propane to two customers in this area. Those propane cars will be going about 60 feet from my apartment but I will not give it a second though. CN hauls 100 cars train of oil by my house everyday. It seems you jumped on oil as this site was getting pretty boring before Lac Megantic. I still don;t know what the big deal is as railways are required by law to haul oil, gasoline, chemicals and other dangerous cargo.They rely on industry to provide them with the proper documents. Shutting down the economy by stopping oil shipments will never happen.I have still not seen you make one productive suggestion for an alternative. The Exxon Valdez and other ships have dumped million of barrels of oil into the sea but ships are still sailing the world full of oil. Lac Megantic may be the railways Valdez but will also keep rolling along. If you are so worried about them going by your place in BC, may move away from the tracks.

          • trainjane permalink

            Jealous about what, Mr. Pfefferle? Where did you pull that one up from? No doubt that taking a locomotive out to Tim Horton’s for coffee is something you’d like to have us forget here. Glad to hear that may no longer be the case and that someone is giving some thought to more sustainable practices. Yes, I was in a Timmy’s over the past while, there’s one not far out of Cape Breton that’s pretty decent.

            Yes, rail is required to haul crude and other fuels, but they are also required to do so safely and prior to Lac Megantic, people had little idea how rail safety was being compromised in terms of rail maintenance, rail equipment, training, staffing, and procedures. This tragedy has helped shed light on these issues.

            And keep guessing away, Mr. Pfefferle. There are no oil trains going by my door, or anyone’s door in the community where I live.

            If you’re bored here, there’s lots of other stuff to read on the web.

          • Walter Pfefferle permalink

            Better quit going to Timmies then since they took a whole train and ran it all day to make their commercial. 🙂

          • trainjane permalink

            I seldom ever do go to Timmies. That changed to never when they decided to hold hands with Burger King.

            Obviously a healthy lifestyle is not part of their program.

          • Walter Pfefferle permalink

            Good god, have you people nothing new to say, the trip to the coffee shop was over 10 years ago and they had to go by go dig up some more stuff from 20 years ago. You all sound like a broken record.

          • trainjane permalink

            Finally Mr. Pfefferle, you’ve made me laugh.

            Go read your comment this was in response to. You were the one that brought this issue up, I merely responded.

            Time for a double shot of espresso!

        • Walter Pfefferle permalink

          Oh by the way, last time I looked most public transport runs on some form of energy made from oil 🙂

          • trainjane permalink

            The issue, Mr. Pfefferle, is about reducing your carbon footprint, exactly as I said.

            Taking a locomotive out for a spin to pick up coffee: big footprint

            Taking a Prius out to Tmmy’s with two other friends: vast improvement

            Taking public transit, like Calgary’s light rapid rail: gold star.

      • Such a tired & juvenile argument. Walter I used to deliver pizza, I’d expect you eat your fair share. By your logic it would have been ok for me to drive my car through your living room since you eat the product I deliver…

  4. Walter Pfefferle permalink

    Ed, don’t eat pizza and I am not sure many oil trains are running through your living room. Good try though. 🙂
    Read the facts how petroleum is entwined in your life whether you like it or not and life as we know if would not be possible with out it. file:///C:/Users/Railpast/Downloads/PetroleumUses_04%202012.pdf

    • trainjane permalink

      Can you please make the dinosaurs come back too? They would go so well with all this crude oil and coal.

      Coal and crude are yesterday’s energies, Mr. Pfefferle. We’re scrambling to send as much of this stuff as possible to countries with lax or zero environmental standards and calling it “economic growth.”

      After all, we don’t all share the same air, do we?

      Now, go read something about a brilliant man named Tesla.

    • I’m crossing my fingers but I wouldn’t ask that same question of the people of Lac-Mégantic.
      The point that seems to have gone over your head is, the entwining of petroleum products in our lives has nothing to do with rail safety or irresponsible & noisy rail operations.

      This is not a discussion on the usefulness of petroleum products, stop trying to hitch your bandwagon argument to the petroleum industries accomplishments.

      • trainjane permalink

        Ed, I agree with you. I call it the 3D approach to mismanagement… deny, delay, deflect.

        • Walter Pfefferle permalink

          Copy what you want, guess you don’t have a last name or is “ed” just an alias? I always find comments carry more weight when you are ready to put your name on them, that goes for the moderator of this blog too.

          I agree the industry does have some issues and they are being addressed. The shipping of oil grew so quickly I don’t think anybody realized it was happening. I just don’t think Lac Megantic is any indication of the safety or railways or their attitude toward shipping oil and cannot be used to compare the transportation system. It was a one time disaster that needed multiple factors to occur. The Exxon V;adez was a terrible accident too although it did not result in loss of life but in no way reflected the safety of shipping of oil by tankers. Oh by the way I think they still do that so don’t expect shipping of oil by rail to go away.

          You make it sound like the railways want derailments and huge lawsuits which is no way to run a business. You can’t make money if you are spending millions on repairing tracks and equipment and paying out huge lawsuits. You can’t built 30,000 tank cars overnight and older tank cars are being replaced. The last dozen tanker trains that went by my house all had brand new tank cars and were restricted to 45 mph which indicate the railways are doing what is necessary.

          I don’t think you will be happy unless they stop shipping oil altogether then it will be on trucks going by your door.

          The situation with grain is due to a bumper crop that is almost 20% larger than normal. Nobody can be prepared for unusual events, what if next year there is a drought or low yield crop? Grain elevators are full but so are railyards with hundreds of grain cars that are full. Bringing in more cars will do nothing to ease the situation. You need to empty those grain elevators and cars before the railways can move more grain. Both CN & CP are moving record numbers of tons of grain and still can’t keep up but is a record yield the railways fault? Maybe the farmer should have planned better. I am sure they are not crying about the huge bulge in their bank accounts. 🙂

          • trainjane permalink

            Honestly Mr. Pfefferle, I hardly know even where to begin.

            Firstly, the issue of handles or pen names:

            We covered that at the very beginning of this blog. I will continue to write as Trainjane. If you really feel that this practice reduces my credibility somehow, then you are completely free to stop reading this blog and paying attention to what’s being discussed here. That’s your choice, as is everyone else’s, as is the manner in which people choose to identify themselves.

            Now, let’s get to the real reason why this is the thorn in your side, along with the other industry representatives following us so closely.

            The railways like to keep a very close watch on their detractors, and maintain detailed “noise files” and such on their complainants. This has been going on for years, keeping track. This blog is neither their rumour mill nor their feed mill, so the persons closely associated with this blog choose their privacy in this regard, for this and other previously-discussed reasons.

            People who write to us can and do so privately with certain regularity as well. Their privacy, whenever requested, is 100% respected by us and their names, locations, and concerns don’t appear in print without consent.

            That is how we feel we create our own internal credibility amongst ourselves.

            We’re not interested in helping the railways easily mine certain data from this site. Why would we be?

            Now to other news:

            “The shipping of oil grew so quick that nobody knew what was going on.” Oh, come on, Mr. Pfefferle. Big rail has been cosying up to big oil for several years now. It’s been a key pursuit; a conscious choice. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Oil quickly became an obsession for the railways.

            But, after years of what I view as being a real reluctance in investing and upgrading infrastructure (as opposed to simply expanding) this skinflint attitude finally boomeranged back to the railways when that lack of upgrading and critical investment came back to bite them in their hindquarters.

            Cutbacks, rollbacks, and and obsession with shareholder profits over all else showed its flaws in terms of major safety issues, maintenance lapses, inadequate staffing (my opinion) all conspired to redefine rail in terms of an industry with an eroding safety record, culminating with Lac Megantic.

            For example, how many years did the railways know about DOT-111 tankers defects, but chose to roll the dice and use them anyways? As we all know, the railways lost that toss, communities and people paid, and the Feds stepped in to “help” the railways realign their “priorities.”

            Plain and simple Mr. Pfefferle, the railways black eye in the hauling of crude was self-inflicted.

            As for the Excon Valdez catastrophe not causing loss of life, how on earth do I respond to you on this?

            Is not the agonizing, prolonged, horrific deaths of countless birds, sea creatures and other wildlife not a relevant loss of life? Is not watching a fragile environment around a pristine ecosystem suffocate and virtually die in the Sound where this accident occurred a death of sorts?

            And yes, my colleagues in this part of the country strongly look to this accident as reason in itself to oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline or rail filling in as a make-believe pipeline in its absence. The risk is being viewed by many as too great, the supposed benefits too small, mostly just lining the pockets of the oil and transportation companies, and the credibly too shaky in trusting this scheme with a coastline so precious.

            Both The Exxon Valdez tragedy and Lac Megantic have helped fuel that distrust to a large extent.

            I don’t think I know anyone who wants the railways to have more derailments, Mr. Pfefferle, but there are a lot of people like me who question the how much profit big rail has been extracting from its operations, while much of the infrastructure and equipment remains in a sorry state.

            And lastly, I cannot believe that you are trying to pass the buck and blame the farmer’s for rail’s epic service failure in moving grain.

            If rail can handle a multi-thousand percentile increase over a few years in handling crude oil, why can’t it handle a 20% increase in grain shipments?

            I’m sure CN and CP have dealt with volume fluctuations in grain shipments in the past.

            Part of the issue here is that grain, due to both this variability and seasonality of its nature are now an “inconvenience” for big rail to handle.

            And, we both know, the only reason why rail has pulled up their socks and started to move more grain than they were otherwise willing to was because the Feds legislated them to, as rail service levels were otherwise damaging the industry.

            You can’t present yourself as a rail company having the type of capacity for growth that is has in shipping crude while leaving your now less-preferential customers with product rotting in fields.

            Rail has put itself in an unflattering spotlight that it continues to cringe under, not being able to hit its own light switch that it turned on in the first place.

          • Walter Pfefferle permalink

            Take off your blinders and try seeing past your own badly biased opinion.

          • trainjane permalink

            I’m in Europe in part to see how rail functions here on a firsthand basis. Seems to me you’re the one whose view is narrow here, Mr. Pfefferle.

            After speaking to as many Belgians as I have been able to, it’s clear these people are astounded by what Canadians are forced to endure by the rail industry. This sort of treatment – and your attitude – wouldn’t go far, here.

          • Walter Pfefferle permalink

            Just thought I would post this in case you have not seen it. Oil producer switching from pipeline to rail. 🙂

          • trainjane permalink

            This really isn’t surprising, Mr. Pfefferle. Given the massive opposition that both Keystone and Enbridge have both faced, oil companies are seeking alternatives for themselves. Note that I say “themselves.”

            My opinion is that rail will increasingly face the same type of escalating public opposition to these schemes.

            Read a couple of our past posts. It’s already happening.

    • Walter Pfefferle just in the recent past the federal government has launched a review of the Canada Transportation Act, the rail industry is being ordered to move more grain, suffering penalties for lack of compliance & the ever looming pipeline industry threatens your profit margin. You guys can keep arguing with everyone around you or you could try to find solutions that work for both you & the residents around you. Until you do we will keep lobbying the government to make these choices for you.

      You can brag that the rail industry will carry-on even after they cause disaster after disaster but you fail to recognize you are not carrying-on with the same degree of freedom.

      Furthermore it is the employees of the rail industry that get thrown under the bus when a disaster occurs. After-all when an employee follows an illegal or unethical order from his boss be becomes as culpable as his boss.

      I’ll be sure to copy your remarks in my next formal complaint to the CTA as an example of the industries lax & irresponsible attitude towards their job.

      • trainjane permalink

        Ed, you make a lot of valid points,the most disturbing being how rail employees seem to centred out for the problems in this industry.

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