FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Exploding Trains and Crude Oil

On the eve of the first conference bringing together rail workers and environmentalists in Richmond, California, we’ve had one oil train after another go off the tracks and explode. The latest was in Ontario, Canada. According to a news report, “Ontario Provincial Police said the derailment happened near Gogama, Ont., around 2:45 a.m. Saturday morning, with some of the cars catching fire and others falling into the Mattagami River.”

Environmentalists around the country have been protesting the “bomb trains” for several years now, but the 100 car unit trains are continuing to roll through hill and dale, towns and cities. Over a hundred years of the rail carriers influence in the halls of government make sure of this, up to now. This, despite the fact that we now know that fracked Bakken crude is more explosive than gasoline. The fireballs that have erupted lately dramatically illustrate this point.

src.adapt.960.high.Lac_Megantic_explosion_101414.1414428570122

Smoke rises from railway cars carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press / AP

As a retired railroad machinist, I have long been aware of the dangerous cargoes that travel by rail. I still remember the propane car that blew up near my shop while I was working, that propelled by the explosion, jetted a mile down the track through the departure yard, thankfully without killing anyone.

Nothing freight-wise from those years I spent on, under and over locomotives compare, however, to the vast quantities of explosive crude now running down a track probably not too far from you.

So I found this analysis from a retired frontline rail worker and engineer, Bubba Brown, particularly interesting in its insights into the changes the carriers have made, all done, of course, in the interests
of maximising profits. In a Railroad Workers United Facebook discussion, Brown remarked:

“I think all of you are trying to make this phenomena more complicated than what I believe it really is. When I started railroading as a hoghead, there was much emphasis placed on train handling from the standpoint of controlling slack action. There wasn’t a great push toward fuel conservation then as now. Air brakes were used extensively toward this control of slack action in those days largely because of occupied cabooses, but as a result, reduction of slack action reduced damages to both freight cars and lading. Heavy slack action occurring at various undulations, causes a downward pounding and at curves produces a heavy lateral pounding which relates adversely to track alignment. When multiple cars loaded with sloshing liquids are handled with dynamic braking and throttle modulation instead of lightly stretching them, their lading takes on a harmonic effect thereby producing “waves” of slack action which adversely affect track alignment and the resultant derailments. The same hogheads that can successfully handle a double stack train use those same principles to operate an oil train (largely due to fuel saving practices) and produce horrible results. The current population of hogheads have been poorly trained in the use of air brakes (read non-existent here) toward train handling, with all emphasis placed on fuel conservation. I predicted when I retired that we’d be witnessing more accidents and more fatalities stemming from the rail industry’s reluctance to use the air and discipline assessment because of it, as the hogheads are scared to use the air.

These are my observations and opinions based on 40 years of railroading with about 37 of them as a hoghead. I offer them up as such and don’t really want an argument.”

And suffice to say, that other engineers in this discussion thread agreed with him. I realize that the railroad lingo in Brown’s remarks might confuse some people. There are two ways to apply brakes on a train, the air brakes that run the entire length of the train and dynamic braking, which reverses the locomotive traction motors, turning them into generators, which slows the locomotives down and as a result causes the cars to bunch up(slack action). Air brakes, on the other hand, are applied on the locomotives and the cars together. With the entire train slowed down by the air brakes, obviously more fuel will be needed to get back to speed. Hence the railroad’s current directives, with the results that Brown explains. 100 car oil trains are incredibly heavy, compared to mixed freight or intermodal trains.

So its not just oil company and carrier greed for cash generating cargo like fracked oil to blame for the current disasters, you can also chalk up the railroad’s desire to save just a little more fuel, at the expense of safety, for the mess we are in. Lets hope environmentalists listen to the rail workers, starting at the conference next week, for more insights like those of Bubba Brown.

Jon Flanders spent 25 years as a Railroad Machinist, member and past President of IAM 1145. Steering committee member of Railroad Workers United. Retired. He can be reached at: jonathan.flanders@verizon.net.

More articles by:

Jon Flanders spent 25 years as a Railroad Machinist, member and past President of IAM 1145. Steering committee member of Railroad Workers United. Retired. He can be reached at: jonathan.flanders@verizon.net.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail