FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Exploding Trains and Crude Oil

by

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.

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail