9.7.13

A FALSE ECONOMY?

IN order to conserve on crew expenses, the freight railroads will park freight trains until a rested crew becomes available or space opens in the yard.
A look-see quickly tells us this is an abandoned train, its three forward locomotives consecutively cycling on and off. More than a mile long, it is comprised solely of 40-foot double-stack containers that most likely were loaded at the Port of Long Beach or Los Angeles. We have been hearing of a lot of BNSF Railway trains on the Transcon being left for a day or two in Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois, and have seen a few of them ourselves since leaving Chicago a day ago.
On the old Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe, there are still a few recessing sidings from the days of 90 mph Chiefs overtaking 50 mph freights, and two main tracks to keep the priority intermodal trains and the one daily Amtrak each way running.  Christmas can wait.  Other lines on BNSF, and other railroads, may not have that kind of capacity, and the abandoned trains occupy sidings that make threading an Amtrak train or a priority freight with a crew on short time through traffic more of a challenge for the dispatcher.  Now throw in a mechanical problem with an active train ...

It appears as though the unit oil train that derailed and burned in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was such an abandoned train.
Investigators are looking into the brakes on the trains, as well as what role a fire on the locomotive shortly before the derailment may have played. A fire broke out onboard the locomotive after the engineer secured the brakes and left the train parked at about 11:25 p.m. Friday night. That fire was extinguished by local firefighters, and not long after, the train began rolling unmanned toward Lac-M├ęgantic.
The coverage on Monday evening's Huntley-Brinkley Report (with Lester Holt deputising for Brian Williams) included tape of roving reporter Katie Tur walking alongside those locomotives.  I still do not have enough information to work out how some cars separated from a train, and why cars from the rear of the train, which was headed east, would roll east into Megantic while the locomotives remain west of the town.

The recriminations are going to be interesting.
The disaster is sure to fuel the debate over whether pipelines are a better way to move petroleum products compared to railroads, which have been picking up business as pipeline projects face stiff opposition. Energy companies have increasingly turned to rail to move their products around North America. In 2008, trains carried fewer than 20,000 barrels a day of oil in the United States, but by the end of last year, roughly 500,000 barrels of oil per day moved via rail.
Yes, and when U-Boats prowled the Atlantic Seaboard, the railroads were ready.  In those days, the environmental fears (or NIMBYism) could be trumped by The War Effort.  Energy independence is not the Moral Equivalent of War, and the railroads may be able to move all the new crude oil, pipeline projects or not.

SECOND SECTION.  The Bangor Daily News interviews railroad executive Ed Burkhardt.
Burkhardt said the train picked up speed quickly and was likely going “far, far faster” than the speed limit of 10 mph as it reached a curve in the track in the very center of Lac-Megantic at around 1:15 a.m. Saturday and jumped the tracks.

He said the locomotives separated from the buffer car — a heavy railcar loaded with stones or rocks or sand — and the tanker cars, which were laden with a free-flowing type of Bakken oil from North Dakota.
The locomotives and the buffer car may have remained on the tracks as the tank cars piled up, which explains why Canadian investigators were able to use the locomotive event recorder, and the railroad evidently moved the rear end of the train, which remained on the rails, back to the siding where Katie Tur filed her report.

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