Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adding Impressive Web Site to "Sites of Interest"

As a retired Instructional Designer, I have a "feel" for sites I promote to my "Sites of Interest."

Therefore I am pleased to add "My Genealogy / History Pages of British Columbia Canada: Grand Trunk Stations - Prince Rupert to Fort Fraser." An impressive effort created by Doug Gent of Terrace, British Columbia.

This site is overwhelming in the amount of information presented. I encourage you to savor the results of impeccable research, time, and effort.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

OC Transpo: Always Expect a Train!

Once again we find media coverage of a train versus motor vehicle. This time in Ottawa, Ontario, where a commuter bus ran through the crossing arm warning sign into the bow VIA commuter train.

OC Transpo runs on many miles of dedicated Busways.  The four car VIA commuter train was slowing down on her southbound stop at Fallowfield Ontario. Inexplicably, an OC Transpo double deck commuter bus smashed through the downed crossing arm, and contacted the nose of southbound nose of VIA locomotive 915.

The sound of the crash was heard by awaiting passengers, about a quarter mile south at the train station, where VIA 915 was slowing down to exchange passengers at Fallowfield Station. The net-net-net bottom line: Six dead, including the bus driver, and 30 injured.

These "accidents" rile me. Few occurrences resulting in death and injury are "accidents." My fervent hope is, that when Transport Canada completes their investigation that we do NOT learn that the bus driver was on his cell phone texting.

OC Transpo purchased 3 Enviro500s for further testing, after two trials in 2006/2007. The first unit arrived in November 2008 and the city of Ottawa operated them on a variety of routes. These three demo buses were sold to BC Transit in the summer of 2012.

It ordered 75 12.8-metre-long Enviro500s with new front for delivery in 2012-13, the first one officially arriving on 23 August 2012. As of 21 April 2013, all 75 of these new Enviro500 buses are in service. Enviro500 buses are designed and manufactured by a Scottish company; Alexander Dennis, Ltd. (ADL)

In North America, the Enviro500 was unveiled at Expo 2008 in San Diego. In October 2008, an agreement was sealed with ElDorado National which will assemble the Enviro500 at the ElDorado National plant in Canyon Lake - Riverside - California.

We just have just completed a study here in Washington State that revealed driver use of electronic devices.  University of Washington investigators saw that more than 8 percent of drivers were engaging with such devices behind the wheel, higher than previously estimated. Among those driving distracted, nearly half (45 percent) were observed texting.

The study looked at the behaviors of 7,800 drivers in six counties. Using randomized observations at controlled intersections, investigators recorded drivers engaged in a range of distracting activities, including texting and talking on the phone. Researchers found that the most common source of distraction was a hand-held device, such as a cell phone.

Among the 3.4 percent of drivers who were talking on a hand-held phone, half were holding the device near or under the steering wheel. This risky behavior diverts the driver's attention from the road.

Like the engineer of  the commuter train in Chatsworth California  who drove his commuter train into a southbound Union Pacific freighter, killing 25, including himself, and injuring 135.

Railroad Stuff:  The Locomotive: CN 915 is a GE P42DC rated at 4250 hp, 3170 kW riding on 4 wheel trucks. She is geared for 110 mph running but is restricted to 100 mph by VIA. General Electric built it in late 2001 (serial number 53230).

General Electric Genesis (officially trademarked GENESIS) is a series of passenger locomotives produced by GE Transportation Systems, a subsidiary of General Electric. Between 1992 and 2001, 321 units were built for Amtrak, Metro-North, and Via Rail.

General Electric designed the Genesis series of locomotives in response to a specification published by Amtrak and ultimately selected over a competing design presented by GM EMD. The Genesis series are unique among current North American diesel-electric locomotives because of their low height.

This height restriction allows the locomotive to travel easily through low-profile tunnels in the Northeast Corridor. The Genesis series is lower than even the previous-generation F40PH by 14 inches (356 mm), and is the only Amtrak diesel locomotive that meets the clearance requirements on every Amtrak route.

A majority of Amtrak's trains are powered by at least one Genesis unit.

The Bus:  The Enviro500 double decker buses are powered by an ISL 330HP Cummings Diesel with EGR (exhaust gas recirculation,) SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction,)  which conforms to  EPA10 standards.

The Cardinal Rule is: When Approaching a crossing, "ALWAYS expect a train!"

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bertha Stuck in the Hole!

So what does it take to stop the worlds largest multi-billion dollar Tunnel Boring Machine dead in it's bore? After burrowing only 24 feet into the soil beneath Seattle, Bertha has ground to a halt! And as of today, hasn't moved an inch in 35 days!

A broken fan belt or some other machinery? No. Some unforeseen physical obstruction? No.

What stopped Bertha was an unforeseen labor obstruction.

A battle between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 and a labor trades union over just four jobs - one each to run a conveyor belt and a bulldozer, and two to position the barges!

Spoils from the TBM are to be moved by a conveyor belt to Terminal 46 and  loaded onto barges. The sticking point is this:  Is Terminal 46 a dock or part of a construction site?

From Pier 46, the spoils will be barged up the Puget Sound and deposited in an old gravel pit.

Here is what we see in today's latest web cam view.

"Operations buildings will be built at both ends of the SR 99 tunnel. The excavation taking place just east of the SR 99 tunnel launch pit is for the south portal operations building. This building will control the tunnel's vital systems, including safety, lighting and ventilation, and will also house large maintenance vehicles. Nearly two-thirds of the operations building will be located underground." 
(Natalie Graves, WSDOT)

An article in the Seattle Times (September 14th) explains the complexity of this labor dispute, one that no politician in Seattle is eager to get involved in.

See also:
 •  Off in a Cloud of Dust

Thursday, September 12, 2013

MM&A: Mislabeled Hazardous Cargo!

"Crude oil really isn't supposed to explode. But according to an article in Bloomberg on the investigation of the MM&A train accident that might not be true of the oil coming from North Dakota's booming Bakken region.

And three major oil companies have won the right to turn down suspect shipments. Enbridge Inc., Tesoro Corp.,  and True companies all won the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to refuse oil that had high levels of hydrogen sulfide, a highly flammable gas that can be a byproduct of oil production, after they started seeing oil with concentrations tens and even hundreds of times higher than what regulators have deemed safe for exposure."  [Source: Mother Jones]

Well. today (Wednesday 9-11) the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said the oil contained in the rail cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster in July was mislabeled and was more flammable than previously thought. “The lower flash point of the crude oil explains in part why the crude oil ignited so quickly,” said Donald Ross, the lead TSB investigator on the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

Petroleum crude oil is considered a dangerous good and is categorized into one of three groups ranging from Class 1, which is the most flammable and volatile, to Class 3, which is the least. The TSB determined over the course of its investigation that the crude being transported in the Lac-Megantic disaster was mislabeled as a Class 3, or Packing Group III product, when in fact it was a Class 2, or Packing Group II product.

A placard provides  a variety of information through several different methods.

The first information indicator is the color of the placard. Red indicates flammable, green indicates nonflammable, yellow indicates oxidizer, blue indicates dangerous when wet, white indicates inhalation hazard and poison, black and white indicates corrosive (acid and caustic), red and white indicates flammable solid or spontaneously combustible, depending on the color pattern on the placard, white and yellow indicates radiation or radioactive, orange indicates explosives, white with black stripes indicates miscellaneous hazardous materials, and there is another red and white placard that says “dangerous” on it.

The second information indicator is the number in the bottom corner of the diamond. This number refers to the hazard classes as used internationally and by the United States DOT. There are 9 classes for hazardous materials:
• Class 1 explosives
• Class 2 gases (flammable, nonflammable, inhalation hazard/poison, or oxygen)
• Class 3 liquids that burn (flammable and combustible liquids, based on their flashpoint)
• Class 4 flammable solids, spontaneously combustible, or dangerous when wet materials
• Class 5 oxidizers and organic peroxides
• Class 6 poison/toxic solids and liquids, infectious materials
• Class 7 radioactive (three sub classes)
• Class 8 corrosives (acids and bases)
• Class 9 miscellaneous

The third information indicator is the symbol in the upper corner of the diamond. A variety of symbols are used to indicate combustion, radiation, oxidizers, compressed gas, destruction of materials and skin by corrosives, an explosion, or skull and cross bones to indicate poisons.

The fourth information indicator is the four digit United Nations (UN) number used for the hazardous material contained in the container. There are hundreds of four digit numbers used, from 1001 (acetylene) to 9279 (hydrogen, absorbed in metal hydride). The number in some cases is specific to a chemical and in other cases reflects a variety of hazardous materials. (For example, 1017 is only used for chlorine, 1005 has five chemical listings, 1993 is used for eight chemical listings and 2810 is used for 36 chemical listings.)

In the case of the MM&A oil train, the placard on the tanker reads UN ID Number is 1267. Crude Oil.  Most "first responders" carry the Emergency Response Guide Book in their vehicles, which is the  "last word" on hazardous materials, their characteristics, and how to deal with them when involved in a spill or fire.

To demonstrate how this Guidebook works, open the Guide Book link (.pdf) above to Guide Number 128, to see the hazards associated with Crude Oil, and remedial response.

At the same time, because there were different wells involved in supplying the crude involved, the crude was labeled in several different ways on their initial material safety data sheets [MSDS]. Investigators reviewed 10 different msds's, and some reported the goods as Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3, and other with no classification whatsoever!

But records show the crude oil was labeled Class 2 when it was transferred from the wellheads to the transloading facility, where they were loaded into the railcars. “We had records on our investigation file that it was transported as Packing Group II, and then the train information, based on the shipper’s information, was shipped by rail as Packing Group III.”

The derailment also draws into question the safety of transporting similar goods in the controversial 111A rail cars involved in the disaster. The TSB has been pushing since 2004 for a more resilient type of rail care to be used than the current 111A tank cars commonly used in Canada (and US) to transport goods.

A similar effort is afoot in the U.S. because the 111A cars have thinner walls and lack the head shields or housings that help prevent damage in the event of a derailment and are commonly available on newer rail cars.

The TSB accident data suggests more than 60% of spills from 111A cars come from damaged top fittings, and more than 25% from structure failure, mainly through punctures in the head or shell. As a result, TSB investigators will be looking into what role the type of rail car used had in the accident. (Source:  Montreal Gazette.)

One rail-safety advocate even called the DOT-111 the "Ford Pinto" of rail cars. 69% of tank cars on North American rails are DOT-111 specification.

Finally, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic track condition has become the focus of attention. I cannot imagine a sane person allowing a hazardous material train to operate on such junk.

Once again reflect on the words spoken by the Chair of the TSB Wendy Tadros:

"At the TSB we hold by the theory that no accident is ever caused by one thing, it's always a series of things.  It always involves the organization and the way that they operate, so we have to look deeply into that. It never comes down to one individual." 

  See Also:
•  The Night a Train Destroyed a Town
•  MM&A:  Unit Oil Train
•  MM&A:  The Investigation Continues
•  MM&A:  Opps! Mr. Burkhardt 

[Editors Note: This article would not have transpired had it not been for a "heads up" by my sister! "Thanks, Les!ey!"]

Thursday, September 5, 2013

MM&A: Opps! Mr. Burkhardt

"Back in the 80s when railroads were going bankrupt left and right, Ed Burkhardt got a heck of a deal on a Canadian Pacific line from Chicago to the Saint Paul and some assorted branch lines. ["Soo line."]  CP had just overbid on the remains of the Milwaukee Road, needed cash fast to pay for the railroad they expected to be overbid for, and Ed Burkhardt was in the right place at the right time. 

"But when it came to actually running the railroad he named the Wisconsin Central, Ed Burkhardt couldn’t do anything right. The IT (Information Technology) system and paperwork were so hopeless that dispatchers asked train crews to creep by rail cars parked in the sidings and read of the cars numbers… 

"They had no idea what all rail cars were on their line and what waylaid cargoes they contained! For weeks on end, rail cars and cargo rolled up and down the railroad, sometimes passing their actual destination multiple times. And those were slow trains of lost cars, pulled by a fleet of cast off locomotives so unreliable that they’d be sent out with twice as many locomotives as needed, in hopes enough would keep running to make it home. 

"Eventually Ed Burkhardt’s Wisconsin Central became a reliably mediocre railroad, well suited to low value cargo that was in no hurry to go nowhere. 

"Then in 1996, after regular garden variety derailments and such, Wisconsin Central managed to pile up a few cars of quite flammable HazMat hit a small Wisconsin town. The blaze was so intense that firefighters had to retreat and watch the fire burn out while over two thousand residents were evacuated for two weeks. 

"Wisconsin Central paid out 27 million in damages, and a couple years later Ed Burkhardt cashed out, selling his joke of a railroad to Canadian National." [Re-post from "Gearhead Grrrl Blog"]

Now what makes Gearhead's post so interesting is, that back in July, when Ed Burkhardt, now CEO of another Class 2 railroad, was ineptly addressing a vocal crowd in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, following yet another derailment and disastrous fire that took the lives of 47 souls, he made the following observation:

 "I feel absolutely awful about this. I'm devastated by what's occurred in this community. I have never been involved in anything remotely approaching this in my whole life." 

Opps, Mr. Burkhardt!

Bet the residents of Weyauwega would have loved not to have "been involved" in the situation they found themselves in when Mr. Burkhart was "driving the bus."

Like Lac-Mégantic, Weyauwega, population more than 3.000, is also located on a lake. Weyauwega Lake.


"On March 4, 1996 at about 0550 Central Standard Time, Wisconsin Central Limited (WC) train LO22-4, consisting of 2 locomotive units, 68 loaded freight cars, and 13 freight cars, derailed the 17‘h through 50th head cars at Weyauwega, Wisconsin.

"Sixteen of the derailed cars contained hazardous materials, including two loaded with sodium hydroxide, seven loaded with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and seven loaded with propane. The derailment resulted in a release of hazardous material that caught fire and consumed 7 of the cars loaded with LPG and propane. The fire also burned a local feed mill building.

"High tension electric lines were knocked down, and city water and natural gas services were disrupted. About 3,155 residents of the town were evacuated from their homes. Highways 10 and 110 were closed, as well as all county roads leading into the area. There were no injuries directly attributable to the derailment, but three persons suffered minor injuries during the evacuation.

The costs associated with the accident were $19,679,264."  [From National Transportation Safety Bord Final Report.]

The derailment resulted in an inferno as four tank cars carrying liquid propane ruptured and caught fire. Close to a million gallons of propane burned within 100 feet from the main natural gas feeding line to the community.

The Four "P's"

Not only was the accident unpredictable, but also the evacuation came as a surprise because residents were removed from their homes with no allowance for gathering essentials and other belongings. Later, Residents were ferried into the danger zone by the National Guard to retrieve wallets, medications, and pets.

•  Purses (and wallets)
•  Pets
•  Pills
•  Papers - as in "important papers."

"We put the residents in flak jackets, Kevlar helmets and gave them earplugs in case there was an explosion. We brought in six armored personnel carriers to transport the residents to their homes. Sorties into the city lasted about a half hour. It was a joint operation with a National Guard driver and a sheriff's deputy in the vehicle with the residents.

"We rescued about 200 animals - dogs, cats, birds, snakes, a goat and an iguana." Guardsmen worked under extremely dangerous conditions. Authorities said a blast would have killed anyone within 800 feet and caused damage within a 1 1/2-mile radius."  [From US Department of Defense News Release, April 4, 1996.]

Once the all-clear signal was given 15 days later, Wisconsin Gas utility went house-to-house in the empty town to shut off all 700 meters. Next, the crew made minor repairs to the gate station and re-pressurized and purged the gas mains, leaving the system on test overnight.

To begin re-entry, Waupaca County emergency services staff devised a strategy in which Weyauwega was divided into four zones based on the Wisconsin Gas restoration plan. This helped in the coordination of buses and routing of families back into the town.

A convoy of 40 Wisconsin Gas technical services employees from Milwaukee and other offices drove to Weyauwega to assist with the relighting efforts. Using gas leak detection equipment, they swept each building and secured it. They were teamed with electric, water and construction crews who assessed any damage to homes and appliances.

The primary owner of a residence or business was allowed on the premises with the inspection crew and was allowed to return permanently only after it was declared safe. With the exception of some water damage, no other severe scarring was done to the homes.

How could Mr. Burkhardt have forgotten such a dramatic - if not traumatic - event?

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded a broken switch-point rail that they said was not properly maintained by Wisconsin Central caused the derailment. According to an NTSB report filed in August 1997, Wisconsin Central's track inspectors should have caught the broken rail during federally mandated monthly inspections.

"The switch point rail broke due to an undetected bolt hole crack that progressed from improper maintenance because Wisconsin Central management did not ensure that the two employees responsible for inspecting the track structure were properly trained," the NTSB report said.

•  The Weyauwega Wreck cost Wisconsin Central USD$27 million in damages.

•  December 1997. Following the Weyauwega Wreck, Wisconsin Assembly Bill 35 was signed into law, unequivocally requiring two-man (engineer/conductor) train crews for trains operating in the State of Wisconsin. (The Weyauwega Wreck had a two-man crew in the cab.)

•  January 30, 2001. Canadian National (CN) announced a plan to purchase WC for USD$800 million and assume USD$400 million of WC's debt. The deal closed on October 9, 2001.

While the 18-day evacuation order stands as the longest displacement of residents from their homes, it was not the largest number of residents evacuated. That record goes to the massive derailment and fire at Mississauga, Ontario on November 10, 1979, near Toronto.

The presence of a tank car of chlorine in the midst of a conflagration of liquefied petroleum gas cars led to an evacuation of nearly 500,000 people. It was later determined that the chlorine car had indeed been breached and most of its contents had escaped in the thermal plume.

See Also:
MM&A:  The Investigation Continues
MM&A:  Unit Oil Train
The Night a Train Destroyed a Town

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

MM&A: The Investigation Continues

Rail photographer Richard Deuso had the incredible good fortune of capturing Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Unit Oil Train, as it made it's way eastbound, toward it's moment of infamy at Lac-Mégantic.

Wendy Tadros, Chair of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada, said the Lac-Mégantic crash "may well be the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history." She said it will take "months or more" to determine the cause.

"At the TSB we hold by the theory that no accident is ever caused by one thing and it's always a series of things. And it always involves the organization. It never comes down to one individual." A number of steps have been, or are in the process of being completed.


The TSB has downloaded key information from the locomotive event recorder. TSB Media Staff  began documenting brakes and controls on the locomotives, beginning at the site they came to rest about a mile east of the derailment.

TSB investigators inspected the tracks, and conducted a site survey, photogrammetry and videography to determine track grade and position, and this information will be used for future calculations and computer modelling.

Investigators have conducted mechanical inspections and photographed 22 tank cars to date to document accident damage. Sample pieces of the tank cars are also being sent to the TSB laboratory in Ottawa for further metallurgical analysis.


The TSB is conducting 3D laser imaging with the assistance of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to record three-dimensional data of the accident scene and different pieces of the wreckage. The scanner will be used to create full-color still images and assist in computer modelling.

Samples were taken of the products inside selected tank cars to determine their exact properties. Shipping documents and train journals are being reviewed to ensure the information is accurate. Investigators have conducted numerous interviews. They have interviewed the locomotive engineer and other employees from MM&A, first responders such as firefighters, and officials from TC, among others.

This important work continues, but it is important to note that under the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act, all interviews are protected information and will not be publicly released.

See Also:
MM&A:  Unit Oil Train
The Night a  Train Destroyed a Town