Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Buhl Alabama Oil Train Wreck UPDATE

Photo by John L. Wathen (Click to enlarge all photos)
On June 16, 2014, A train carrying tank cars filled with fuel oil, Hazmat # 1993 derailed this afternoon with no explosions, no fire balls, no injuries. It was NOT Bakken Crude.
UN No. 1993
Placard Subject: FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS n.o.s., FUEL OIL
No. 3
 I was able to get a ride with SouthWings pilot Dick McGlauphlin to survey the wreck site  seen above. While this was nothing to ignore, it could have been so much worse. This was a light fuel oil placard # 1993.
                                  1993 placard, fuel oil
Here are some shots taken Sunday morning 06/22/14 from a SouthWings plane. It shows a pretty good job of containment. I saw no signs of large leaks or spillage. One thing stuck out to me. There were 4 DOT-111 cars on the tracks to pump oil into from the wrecked cars. There were 6 wrecked cars. I hope there were a couple of empties when it went in the ditch or something doesn't add up.

The aerial photos of the scene tell a lot about just how bad this could have gotten. Note the proximity of houses to the tracks.
Buhl Alabama oil train wreck 06/16/14
Now look at the footprint of the Aliceville Bakken Crude train wreck. Try to get your head around just how many of the houses in Buhl were in jeopardy.

I make that connection because the line going through Buhl is or was the chosen alternate route for unit trains carrying Bakken Crude or more commonly now called "Bomb Trains". The rail road claims it isn't using the line for that anymore. Still, oil trains of some description were rolling on this line until the Buhl wreck. A track that is in very bad need of overhaul in my opinion. Below is a photo of a unit train going through downtown Northport and Tuscaloosa.
See accompanying video here
  The tracks where the Buhl wreck happened and this bridge are on the same route. I went to several crossings and shot some pretty disturbing photos to me. The rail road has dismissed them as follows:
"Most of the photos show typical Class I track, which would be 5 non-defective ties per 39 feet of track, or 5 of 24 ties. While the observation of this track can lead to concerns, the track should be able to handle trains moving at 10 mph or less." I added emphasis on the word "should". 

I find it a bit concerning that the bottom level of safety is the high bar for this line. Only 5 of every 24 cross ties must be sound. It sure seems to me that if hazardous cargo is being shipped on the line which goes through Sipsey Swamp, it should be held to a little higher standard than the low bar for safety. 

I saw and photographed a lot of rotten ties at every crossing I came to. That is something people all over the country should be paying attention to. If the infrastructure isn't sound, I don't care what type tank cars that are used, it is irrelevant  if the tracks are not up to the loads. People should start now documenting track conditions and reporting them to the National Transportation Safety Board: NTSB

The low bar shouldn't be the high bar where people's lives are concerned.

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