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crs1026

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This topic may seem out of scope for the GTA, but if you think about it, the decision to increase shipment of Alberta oil has direct impact on the GTA, since both major railways run right through this urban area. I find it interesting that we don't have a specific ongoing forum about safety issues and impacts this presents.

Anyways - here's my thought.

We know that Alberta is about to fund a large scale procurement for railcars for shipping oil. (Personally I think pipelines are the better way to go, but we don't seem to be getting very far with that, and Alberta has every good reason to want to get on with moving oil). Some of this oil will likely pass through Toronto, so it's our problem too.


  1. These new cars will be in dedicated unit train service, as opposed to loose car interchange service
  2. We know that the traditional air brake system has its flaws - as we've seen at Lac Megantic and recently at Yoho
  3. There is government money available, so it's not a question of impacting some private investor
  4. There are proven ways to improve on traditional braking - such as a second brakeline to constantly recharge reservoirs, and maybe other things
  5. Shipping oil has extra risk
  6. When I look at these major tragedies, my personal conclusion is that the traditional air brake technology is no longer viable, especially as trains get longer.

My point is: Surely this is the right time and place to insist on the cars in oil train service having a more modern braking system.

At the very least, oil cars in unit train service ought to be hard-connected into 5ish-packs, similar to intermodal cars.... in the interest of braking effectiveness. This could lead to a similar transition in other dedicated fleets - grain being a good example - without the impacts that the railroads will whine about ie having to equip every last car in North America before something can be done.

I don't have a preferred detailed technical solution, and I defer to experts, but after the Yoho incident I just hate to see everyone assume the status quo when it need not be that way. Insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result....how do you create forward movement in an industry like railroading? This may be the moment.

I actually intend to write a few letters on the topic. Just throwing this out there for others' consideration.

- Paul
 

AlvinofDiaspar

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smallspy

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  1. These new cars will be in dedicated unit train service, as opposed to loose car interchange service
  2. We know that the traditional air brake system has its flaws - as we've seen at Lac Megantic and recently at Yoho
  3. There is government money available, so it's not a question of impacting some private investor
  4. There are proven ways to improve on traditional braking - such as a second brakeline to constantly recharge reservoirs, and maybe other things
  5. Shipping oil has extra risk
  6. When I look at these major tragedies, my personal conclusion is that the traditional air brake technology is no longer viable, especially as trains get longer.
My point is: Surely this is the right time and place to insist on the cars in oil train service having a more modern braking system.

- Paul

And that braking system exists already, although only in very small-scale use here in North America.

A number of the Class 1 railways in the US have dabbled with ECP braking, and while the trials were very positive, ultimately it always came back to cost. And with the railroads not being the owners of the rolling stock, there is simply no incentive to install the required equipment to make it happen.

If the Alberta Government is going to be buying or leasing long-term the equipment, it could stand to reason that should also force the railways to equip a small sub-fleet of equipment for ECP braking. The railways aren't going to make the jump without some sort of foot up their ass prodding them along.

Dan
 

lenaitch

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If I recall correctly, the Lac Megantic incident was precipitated by the fire department shutting down the prime mover that maintained the air pressure coupled with not enough hand brakes being set (and either not calling the company or the company not responding, I can't recall). From what I have read about the Yoho incident, the train started running away just as the crew was taking over. I thought I read somewhere that CP had instituted distributed air compressor cars in some areas during the winter. Improvements to braking systems might be beneficial but, as mentioned, very expensive and very complicated. Perhaps there needs to be a better way to park these things. Of course, there have also been many incidents involving underway trains as well, many that have come down to track maintenance.
Much of this might lay at the feet of the new system of self-regulating 'safety management systems' rather than the former TC inspections.
 

dowlingm

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A shame these trains couldn't be sent east from Alberta via the former CP North Bay-Smith Falls routing which would have kept them clear of the GTA and most of Greater Ottawa.
 

nfitz

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A shame these trains couldn't be sent east from Alberta via the former CP North Bay-Smith Falls routing which would have kept them clear of the GTA and most of Greater Ottawa.
There's always routing them through Hearst, onto the ONR and NCR to Rouyn-Noranda and then the CN line back to Shawinigan or Quebec City.

Perhaps someone can convince Ford that he can tax shipments running through Ontario or something ... :)

What's the destination of these trains? A refinery somewhere I assume. Montreal?

(as crazy as that routing sounds, is it really any further than bringing them all the way down to Toronto and back up again? ... hmm, a very rough estimate is about 1,220 km from where the CN line to Hearst leaves the main line though Toronto to east end of Montreal. And 1,250 through Rouyn-Noranda)
 
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BurlOak

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We have gone full on crazy if we think trains is a better/safer way to move oil than pipelines......I have no idea how a country that experienced Lac Megantic can make these decisions and feel good about it.
A shame these trains couldn't be sent east from Alberta via the former CP North Bay-Smith Falls routing which would have kept them clear of the GTA and most of Greater Ottawa.
Seeing as the decision that these shipments are happening by rail and not pipeline was made by the Liberals who were resoundingly supported by Toronto - it only seems fair that all these shipments are forced to go through Toronto.
 

crs1026

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And that braking system exists already, although only in very small-scale use here in North America.

A number of the Class 1 railways in the US have dabbled with ECP braking, and while the trials were very positive, ultimately it always came back to cost. And with the railroads not being the owners of the rolling stock, there is simply no incentive to install the required equipment to make it happen.

If the Alberta Government is going to be buying or leasing long-term the equipment, it could stand to reason that should also force the railways to equip a small sub-fleet of equipment for ECP braking. The railways aren't going to make the jump without some sort of foot up their ass prodding them along.

Dan

Definitely any pressure has to start with government.

My reason for speaking up was my impression that Alberta had money to offer, and was about to cause new procurement, so an opportunity exists. There is a segment who think the Notley deal with the railways was purely political, to force federal action on pipelines, and is not intended to actually make oil flow by rail.

An off-line response to my post suggested that the supply for oil tank cars is already tight and no one can actually provide cars from the existing inventory to satisfy Alberta's needs. Nor can existing terminals handle the proposed volumes. A realistic timeframe for Alberta might be 5-6 years, by which time some government might have solved the pipeline logjam anyways, and Alberta would be content to tear up its contract with CP/CN. There has to be a long enough car hire to pay for any new procurement, and that may not happen. CP CEO Keith Creel said as much publicly this past week.

I was also encouraged to hold my fire until the Yoho incident investigation is complete, as there might be more regulatory courage than we think, and changed attitudes and legal thinking re liability might make railways want to move away from the status quo.

It's clear that the railway industry believes that a change to brake technology is just too daunting, even in unit train service, because of the extent to which unit trains are broken up and intermingled with other types of railcars - at terminals, on switching moves and to/from branches etc. I still wonder whether hard-coupling 6-packs of cars to reduce air leakage might be a small step forward.

So I may be jumping the gun a bit. Nevertheless, the number of derailments is rising. The number of derailments in the GTA in the next ten years will not be zero.

- Paul

PS - re ECP - I'm told that the technology was deployed in coal service where rotary dumping was a requirement. The connections just couldn't handle this demand. As the connections wore, trains went into emergency more and more often whenever electrical continuity was broken. And there were sufficient occasions where a trainset had to be taken apart, or separated on its own, to convince the railways that the technology just wasn't workable.
 

KevinT

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If I recall correctly, the Lac Megantic incident was precipitated by the fire department shutting down the prime mover that maintained the air pressure coupled with not enough hand brakes being set (and either not calling the company or the company not responding, I can't recall).

I think the shut down engine was a red herring. My understanding of the single brake pipe system is that you can't hold the brakes and charge the reservoirs that pressure them at the same time. I think the spring pressured system that truck air brakes use is much smarter, though I'm sure there's reasons I'm simply unaware of why railroads don't/can't use it.

Edit to add: Did more reading overnight, the locomotives have straight air brakes that are held on by the running compressor. Those would have leaked off and released after the lead locomotive at Lac-Mégantic was shut down, leaving just the hand brakes on the cars (of which not enough were set) to hold the train in position. :-(
 
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lenaitch

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There's always routing them through Hearst, onto the ONR and NCR to Rouyn-Noranda and then the CN line back to Shawinigan or Quebec City.

Perhaps someone can convince Ford that he can tax shipments running through Ontario or something ... :)

What's the destination of these trains? A refinery somewhere I assume. Montreal?

(as crazy as that routing sounds, is it really any further than bringing them all the way down to Toronto and back up again? ... hmm, a very rough estimate is about 1,220 km from where the CN line to Hearst leaves the main line though Toronto to east end of Montreal. And 1,250 through Rouyn-Noranda)

It seems pretty circuitous but I defer to your measurements. Much of that route would likely require significant upgrades to track weight capacity and directional connections. There are refineries in Quebec City and Saint John. Ontario has refineries in Clarkson (still?), Naticoke and Sarnia.

I think the shut down engine was a red herring. My understanding of the single brake pipe system is that you can't hold the brakes and charge the reservoirs that pressure them at the same time. I think the spring pressured system that truck air brakes use is much smarter, though I'm sure there's reasons I'm simply unaware of why railroads don't/can't use it.

Like you, I don't know enough about the technology. I would think if there is a problem maintaining braking efficiency on a system where air applies the brakes then I think the same problem would exist for a system where air holds the brakes off. There are huge challenges inherent in a system that can be up to a mile long with a multitude of essentially temporary connections coupled (no pun intended) to pneumatic degradation at colder temperatures.

The issue of runaway parked trains seems more of a regulatory/compliance issue. It would seem a simple solution for shorter trains is don't park the damned things where they can roll away, setting more handbrakes or setting out derails. Very long trains in the mountains perhaps not so much. I know there is a science to handbrakes vs. weight or length but it strikes me that the interim order recently issued by TC will be a challenge to implement on very long trains, but again, not totally clear on the technology of railroading.
 

narduch

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Its like people lose their shit over an exisiting pipeline route but have no issues with trains full of them going behind their house.

People don't like being forced to have pipelines run through their own lands. Add to the fact that the Pipeline companies have a history of not cleaning up after their messes.

Would you be ok if we tore down your house and put a pipeline there? Come on man, its for the good of the country!
 

narduch

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And another thing, isn't the Oil market going to collapse in about 20 years as Electric cars get more and more prevalent?

I don't think it would be wise to be making large infrastructure investments to support this industry. We need to move on.

I realize this mentality isn't a vote getter for Politicians though.
 

nfitz

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What's the payback period of a pipeline?

Seems to be a lot of opposition to pipelines. Has an oil pipeline ever killed anyone - I can't offhand think of too many casualties.
 

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