David Thomas, Contributing Editor

David Thomas, Contributing Editor

David Thomas is a reporter who has covered government and society since graduating from Ottawa’s Carleton University with degrees in political science and journalism. He has written for National Geographic, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, The Gazette, and The Canadian Press news agency from postings in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and London, England. “Railroading has been a personal fascination since a childhood timed fortunately enough to witness the golden years of steam on the late-to-dieselize Canadian National and Canadian Pacific,” he says.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 12:41

Safety-driven railway realignments

As railroaders, regulators, suppliers, and crude oil shippers convene at the Railway Age Crude by Rail Conference on June 12, they may ponder the full range of proffered remedies to exploding oil trains: re-classification of Bakken crude from merely flammable to explosive; de-gasification before loading; better track and car maintenance; tighter operating rules; sharing of consist details with first responders; and, of course, more robust tank cars.

The Department of Transportation hazardous materials regulator has quickly challenged the refinery lobby's contention that Bakken crude falls comfortably within existing "Class 3 Flammable Liquid" and should continue to be transported in the DOT-111 general purpose tank car.

Operators of the U.S. fleet of DOT-111 tank cars are fighting the emerging consensus that the cars and their contents are the key culprits in the succession of oil train conflagrations that started last July 6 at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

The bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A) and three of its former employees are to appear in court in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, to face 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death in the runaway derailment and explosion last July 6 of a training carrying oil from North Dakota.

Yet another fine example of the peak of American steam locomotive technology is emerging from retirement to delight fresh generations of railroad enthusiasts. Ex-Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 1309 has been acquired from the B&O Railroad Museum for overhaul and operation by Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

State and local emergency responders won the right to know about individual movements of Bakken crude oil in an emergency order issued late Wednesday, May 7, 2014 by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

For the past four decades, former Norfolk & Western and Southern Pacific locomotive engineer Doyle McCormack has coddled the most familiar steam locomotive operating in North America.
Clearing the autumn grain harvest from trackside elevators is a perennial occasion for ritual fist-shaking on the Canadian Prairies. Western Canadian farmers enjoy a long tradition of blaming the railways for their woes, even more than the weather. (A favorite national folk tale has a Prairie farmer stricken by hail and locusts cursing, “God damn the CPR.”)
The crude oil aboard the ill-fated train that destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic was as explosive as gasoline, Canada's Transportation Safety Board revealed on March 6, 2014, eight months to the day after the catastrophe that killed 47.
The most onerous burdens under the Emergency Order issued by the Federal Railroad Administration Feb. 25 fall upon crude shippers and transloaders. The earlier regulatory vagueness concerning the classification of crude oil has now been sharpened by specific prescriptions for evaluating “flash point; boiling point; corrosivity to steel and aluminum; presence and content of compounds such as sulfur/hydrogen sulfide; percentage presence of flammable gases; and the vapor pressure at 50ºC.”
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