Thursday, August 22, 2013

MM&A: Unit Oil Train

It's been more than a month since the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) Lac-Mégantic Runaway Train Disaster. Media attention has largely disappeared. Investigators continue the arduous task of reconstructing the events of July 6th that destroyed a goodly section of a bucolic municipality located on the beautiful undulating countryside of eastern Quebec.

The locomotive fire (MM&A 5015) which set in motion the disaster, was the fourth locomotive fire since 2005 that the Nantes Fire Department has been called to extinguish. No employees from the train company were at the scene when the fire crew arrived. Chief Lambert added that by the time his men were done putting out the fire at 12:13 a.m., two MMA employees had arrived.

Lambert said his men had done some joint training with the MM&A in how to fight locomotive fires, including how to safely shut down a locomotive, which one of his men did on Friday night.  But that training had nothing to do with the air brake system. “We don’t touch the brakes,” he said. “We’re not specialists on trains, we’re not mechanics. Our specialty is putting out fires.”

The Chief added that MM&A dispatchers were notified that the lead locomotive had been shut down.

Engineer stated he had set 11 handbrakes, yet Federal Railway Administration recommends twice that number for the tonnage and grade the train was parked on.

On August 7, 2013, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a "Notice of Safety Advisory and Announcement of Emergency Meeting of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee," containing preliminary findings by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada:

 "According to Rail Safety Advisory Letters issued by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada on July 19, 2013, the incident is summarized as follows. At approximately 10:45 pm (EDT) on July 5, 2013, an MMA train was proceeding eastward from Montreal, Quebec, to St. John, New Brunswick.

"The train was approximately 4,700 feet long, weighed over 10,000 tons and consisted of five locomotives, a loaded box car, and 72 loaded tank cars containing petroleum crude oil (Class 3, UN 1267).

"At approximately 11:00 pm the train stopped near mile post 7.40 near Nantes, Quebec. At that location the single operator secured the train and departed, leaving the train unattended on mainline track with a descending grade of approximately 1.2 percent.

"At approximately 11:50 pm, a local resident reported a fire on the lead locomotive (MMA 5017) of the train and the local fire department was called and responded with another MMA employee. At approximately midnight, in accordance with established operating procedures, the lead locomotive was shut down and the fire extinguished. After the fire was extinguished, the fire department and the MMA employee left the site."

"The Night a Train Destroyed a Town" is cited as the worst Canadian railroad accident in more that 150 years. Many point to the deregulation of railroads, on both sides of the border, as creating rail networks fraught with probable calamity in the offing.

•  A 2007 report from the Canada Safety Council raised the alarm about the dangers of the Safety Management Systems (SMS). This eliminated the role of Transport Canada in the oversight of railroads, allowing individual companies to self-regulate. Think of this like the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop.

•  In the United States, Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act of 1980. Among other things, Staggers expedited the line abandonment process. This enabled the big Class 1's to divest themselves of poorly performing branches and corridors.

Into this void came a new breed of venture capitalists. Some - not all - are the "Mitt Romney" species. Buy low, strip assets, run on slim margins.

After Edward Burkhardt was thrown "under the bus" by the Boad of Directors of his creation, Wisconsin Central, he fled with his Golden Parachuet and created Rail World. In 2003, Rail World purchased  the floundering Bangor & Aroostook Railroad.

As with most "reconstituted" rail lines - cast offs from Class One's as loosing propositions - locomotives are snatched from the cutters torch, employees hired with minimal pay and benefits, and a "nod and a wink" given to track and equipment maintenance.

Trains Magazine in February 2007, did a feature story on the MM&A. This is the equipment roster, reflecting used and leased motive power, at the time of "start up."


The train that destroyed  Lac-Mégantic consisting of 5 locomotives, a Remote Control Car, a buffer car - often incorrectly referred to as an "idler" car - and 72 tankers.

•  Each of the 72 DOT-111 tankers has a capacity of 113,000 liters (25,000 imperial or 30,000 US gallons) of liquid.

•  Train length: 0.89 miles (1.4 kilometers or 1,500 yd) long.

•  The crude oil, shipped by World Fuel Services, subsidiary of  Dakota Plains Holdings Incorporated from New Town, North Dakota, originated from the Bakken formation. (The first movement of oil by rail car started in August 2008.)  The final destination is the Irving Oil Refinery, approximately 2,370 miles (3,823 km) to the east at Saint John, New Brunswick.

CP Picking up Oil Train at New Town, N.D.
•  Trains, until recently, were handed off to the MM&A at CP's classification yard in Côte Saint-Luc, a suburb of Montreal.

•  MM&A escorted the oil train to Brownsville Junction.  By the early 1990’s, CP Rail System was looking to discontinue its rail operations in the Maritimes. Sensing the importance of keeping a direct rail link to the U.S. Market, the J.D. Irving Group stepped in and purchased the former CP railway assets between Brownville (Junction) and Saint John, combining the Maine Eastern  and New Brunswick Southern Railroads.

•  Final destination was the Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. This is a major refinery, supplying petrol products to the New England states, as well as overseas.

 •  MM&A's actual "end of track" is at another tidewater facility, at Searsport Maine.

A Federally mandated "buffer car" separates the power pack from the unit train.  The car separated from the locomotives, and left the tracks at an estimated speed of 63 mph (101 kph) smack dab in the middle of Lac-Mégantic.

Engineer Tom Harding, awakened by the initial blasts in his motel room, reportedly rushed to borrow a tractor from an area forestry company; grabbed a fireman's suit from an area fire department; and pushed nine crude oil filled cars away from the explosive danger.

The Bakken Oil Shale crude, placarded ID Number 1267, has come under close scrutiny. It has already been revealed that the high levels of sulpher can accelerate corrosion of the tank car interiors. But the question of fracking chemicals is of concern to investigators, alarmed over the numerous explosions during the 24-hour fire.

Nadal's Criterion for Derailment
The five-unit power pack did not derail. It was located about 1 km (3,281 ft) further down track, sitting in the pucker brush! What an eerie sight that must have been! Early on, Authorities were reticent about revealing the exact location of the units, declaring them "a crime scene," and to avoid the area being overrun with photographers.

I ask you. Does this look like a rail bed suitable for transporting hazardous material unit oil trains?

This is video is taken of an MM&A unit oil train, limping along. I have unconfirmed information that 10 mi/hr (16 km/hr) is not uncommon along the route. Radio Control Caboose, VB-4, and the last unit in the lash up, CEFX 3166, were involved in the fatal derailment. Tank cars wobble in several scenes.

Compare to this test run unit oil train, run by a Class One railroad, CSX. In both examples, note the buffer car between the power pack and the unit train.

With the help of  Ronald Tilly and Mario Vincent, in Montreal, I've been able to create a photo line up of the power units involved in the runaway oil train. From front to back, the power pack consisted of:

•  MM&A 5017. General Electric (GE) C30-7, 3,000 hp. Built 10/79, as BN 5017, sn 42581. Later BNSF 5017.  Retired from BNSF 03/99. This was the unit that suffered the machine room fire.

•  MM&A VB-4. Remote Control Caboose. A Remote Control Caboose (or other car) contains radio signal activated multiple unit controls, so that a single worker, with a "chest pack" can control a group of locomotives.

•  MM&A 5026. GE C30-7, 3,000 hp. Built 10/79, as BN 5026, sn 42590. Later BNSF 5026. Retired from BNSF 03/99.
•  CITX (CIT Group/Capital Finance, Inc.) 3053. General Motors SD40-2, 3,000 hp. Built by General Motors Division, London Ontario, for Canadian Pacific as CP 5740, 10/75, sn A-3336. Sold to East Coast Motive Power, 8/99. Rebuilt by Alstrom becoming GCFX 3053.  Renumbered CITX 3053 in 1988.

•  MM&A 5023. GE C30-7, 3,000 hp. Built 10/97 as BN 5023, sn 42587. Later BNSF 5023. Retired from BNSF 03/99.

•  CEFX (CIT Group/Capital Finance, Inc.) 3166. GM SD40-2, 3,000 hp. Built for Union Pacific as UP 3360, 03/77, sn 766056-26. Retired from UP 7/2001.

Final Thoughts

The Bakken Formation, which extends up into Manitoba and Saskatchewan, will play a major role in oil transportation over the next few years. I am preparing an article about the future of Bakken and other Oil Shale Formations in our future.

Bakken Crude from North Dakota continues to be delivered to Saint John each day in spite of the rail wreck. While the MM&A via Lac-Mégantic was important, equal amounts of western crude are being shipped through southern Maine via the Pan Am Railway and along the Canadian route on CN tracks.  This route was first tested in May, 2012.

Irving Oil may be able to increase tanker traffic on one or both of those routes while shipments have stopped coming through Lac-Mégantic. The company has also shipped western oil by rail and barge through Albany, N.Y. to Saint John.

For sure, Irving Oil will be accelerating plans to construct a pipe line from the Bakken Formation to Saint John, freeing themselves of  pesky and dangerous oil trains.  But, like the XL pipe line, and lines into BC, strong environmental and First Nations resistance need to be overcome.

And wrap your mind around this:  Every single tablespoon of soil, every sewer line and basement, even the  nearby Chaudière Rivers soaked by 1.506M US gallons, (1.254M Imp Gallons, or 5.7 million liters) of Bakken Crude requires expensive and time consuming decontamination. (Remember the Exxon Valdez? The Gulf Coast? Mayflower, Arkansas?)

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Canada will operate through October 1, to clear up traffic stranded on either side of Lac Mégantic. The company has provided evidence of adequate third-party insurance through the end of September.

For they looked in the future and what did they see? 
They saw an iron road runnin’ from the sea to the sea. 
Bringin’ the goods to a young growin’ land 
All up through the seaports and into their hands. 
- Gordon Lightfoot
 Canadian Railroad Trilogy

Friday, August 2, 2013

Off in a Cloud of Dust!

And a hearty "Hi-Ho Bertha, and away!" Seattle's Tunnel Boring Machine - the largest TBM in the World, began chewing beneath Seattle on Tuesday July 23rd.

On Saturday, July 20th, the Washington State Department of Transportation hosted an open house at the TBM construction pit, allowing taxpayers to see what they got for their money.

Bertha's first challenge, penetrating a 15' thick concrete wall. This has been formed into the entry portal. The lattice-like framework in the background is part of a two-plus mile long conveyor belt, removing tailings from the TBM, delivering them to a nearby pier, to be loaded onto a barge.

A tug will tow the barge to the site of a former quarry, thus becoming, in future geology books "The 'Seattle Formation' located on the Kitsap Peninsula."

While I provided an access portal - SR99 Cams - in the right margin, allowing you to watch the daily progress of re-constructing Bertha, a time-lapse video compresses the two-month assembly process.

As a reminder, don't forget to click the "enlarge" icon on the YouTube video frame to watch the video in full screen mode.

Simply click "Escape" to return to normal size screen.

Here are previous offerings on the World's Largest Tunnel Boring Machine:

Something Heavy This Way Comes
Something Heavy This Way Comes - Conclusion
Unloading Bertha TBM Has Begun
First Ashore
Some Assembly Required!
Some Assembly Required! - Part Two
Some Assembly Required! - Part Three