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Rail Inspectors Discover Numerous Critical Safety Defects


Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced completion of the latest round of targeted crude oil tank car and rail inspections.

Last week inspection teams from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) carried out track and crude oil tanker inspections at a handful of freight yards including the Canadian Pacific Railway-owned Kenwood Rail Yard in Albany, where rail equipment inspectors examined 170 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars and found 12 non-critical defects, including 7 worn brake shoes, four defective wheels, and one loose brake hose hanger.

Last week The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has determined the recent derailment of a CP freight train in northwestern Ontario — which led to an oil spill — was due to a rail fracture caused by a broken wheel.

The Non-critical tank car defects found at Kenwood must be fixed before the train departs the yard.


NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said, “NYSDOT will continue to work with the FRA to make sure the transport of crude oil through New York State is done safely. The defects we found prove that Governor Cuomo’s efforts to increase inspections are working to spot problems and help reduce the risk of transporting crude oil in New York State.”

Track Inspections

CSX Mainline Track Inspection – Schenectady to Selkirk
NYSDOT and FRA track inspectors examined approximately 15 miles of track and three switches along the CSX mainline from Schenectady to Selkirk. The inspectors found one critical switch gauge defect that required a speed reduction. The inspectors also found four non-critical defects, including loose bolts. All non-critical rail defects must be repaired within 30 days.

CP Mainline Track Inspection – North Country
NYSDOT and FRA track inspectors examined approximately 80 miles of track and 23 switches along the CP mainline between Albany and Whitehall and from Plattsburgh to the Canadian Border. The inspectors found two critical defects – including one for an inadequate number of bolts at a rail joint and an insecure switch point heel – which were corrected immediately. The inspectors also found 24 non-critical defects, including muddy ballast and loose bolts. All non-critical rail defects must be repaired within 30 days.

Dunkirk Rail Yard, Chautauqua County
FRA track inspectors examined tracks at the CSX Durkirk Rail Yard in Chautauqua County and found one broken rail critical defect. The affected track was placed out of service pending repairs. Inspectors also found 11 non-critical safety defects, including loose or missing bolts, switch point stops and joint bars.

Buffalo-Frontier Rail Yard, Erie County
Three crude oil running tracks including 26 switches were inspected in Buffalo. Inspectors found one critical broken rail defect at a switch and 15 non-critical defects including loose and missing bolts and 1 cracked joint bar.

Tank Car Inspections

At the Kenwood Rail Yard in Albany, rail equipment inspectors examined 170 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars and found 12 non-critical defects, including 7 worn brake shoes, four defective wheels, and one loose brake hose hanger.

FRA hazardous materials inspectors examined 308 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars and found four non-critical defects for damaged placards and obstructions on side ladders.

At the Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, rail equipment inspectors examined 106 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars and found three critical defects, including a cracked weld, a missing bolt and one inoperative brake assembly. They also found 16 non-critical defects, including 5 brake defects, 3 broken knuckle pins, a wear plate worn beyond its limits, and 7 safety appliance defects.

The FRA inspected 120 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars for hazardous materials defects and found 6 non-critical defects, including faded hazardous material placards.

Non-critical tank car defects must be fixed before the train departs the yard. If that is not possible, the affected car will be pulled from the train to await repair.

Since this targeted inspection campaign began in February, NYSDOT and its federal partners have inspected 7,368 rail cars (including 5,360 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars) and 2,659 miles of track, uncovered 840 defects, and issued 12 hazardous materials violations.

Increased inspections of railroad tracks and tank cars are one of the aggressive actions New York State has taken following a series of out-of-state disasters involving the transport of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields centered in North Dakota.

Earlier this year, at the direction of Governor Cuomo, state agencies conducted a coordinated review of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to increased shipments of Bakken crude across nearly 1,000 miles of New York State. The agencies issued a report in April 2014 containing 27 recommendations for state government, federal government and industry to take to reduce risks and increase public safety in the transport of crude oil.

To date, state agencies have started to implement all 12 state government recommendations and have completed five. Specifically, New York State has taken 66 actions to better prepare state and local responders in the event of a crude oil incident as detailed in a progress report released earlier this month. New York State will continue to work to fully implement all 12 recommendations.

Governor Cuomo also hired five new rail inspectors, which are undergoing training and will be certified and working in the field by early next year. The new inspectors will allow NYSDOT to dramatically increase the number of inspections.

Other state actions include:

· Urging federal authorities to revise design specifications and expedite the phase-out of older, unsafe rails cars; implement more stringent standards to test crude oil; and review the routing of crude oil to ensure the most appropriate routes;
· Issuing fines to companies that fail to comply with state regulations related to derailments; and
· Calling on federal authorities to expedite and strengthen rail safety standards and increase inspections.

State and emergency response officials have also participated in more than two dozen training exercises this year to better prepare our communities for potential crude oil disasters.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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