ABC News examines recent “close calls” on our railroads nationwide and poses the frightening question we all wonder: Are Train Accidents Happening more Often? Particularly scary as Floridians continue fighting against, “All Aboard Florida.”
BY: Lisa Broadt Trains move more than 380 million gallons of hazardous chemicals through the Treasure Coast each year, bringing with them risks ranging from catastrophic fire to environmental devastation. Soon, however, those chemical cars could be subject to stricter federal
New rules intended to “save lives and homes and protect communities,” announced Friday by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, would require chemical manufacturers to transport flammable products in sturdier, more heat resistant tankers less likely to spill their contents during a derailment. Any of the 25 40,000 gallon tanks of ethanol hauled through the Treasure Coast every day
that is not up to regulations — and most are not, according to DOT — would have to be replaced within 10 years. The “stronger, safer, more robust” tanks likely would create a safer Treasure Coast, according to DOT.
Yet for the next decade, the region will remain at a higher risk for spills of the highly flammable biofuel. Ethanol creates unique dangers for first responders: Not only is it more flammable than gasoline but it also conducts electricity, increasing the risk of ignition and making certain situations, such as downed power lines, especially risky, according to the Renewable Fuels Association Ethanol burns without smoke or visible flame, and because it mixes with water, it can be extinguished only by foam. “Even in well-managed operations, the chance for releases to the environment is present,” the association said in an ethanol guide.
Florida East Coast Railway — which runs freight service between Miami and Jacksonville and within two years would share its rail corridor with All Aboard Florida — is part of a nationwide spike in rail transportation of flammable chemicals such as ethanol and crude oil.
Ethanol makes up a quarter of all hazardous material shipments and demand for the renewable fuel source is expected to increase due to stricter federal energy regulations, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
As transportation of the corn-based product has increased, so have catastrophic and fatal accidents, according to U.S. DOT. Since FEC began shipping ethanol to the Port Everglades tank facility in 2012, there’s been at least one ethanol-related accident on its tracks. A northbound Norfolk Southern train traveling on the FEC tracks in early 2014 derailed, spilling ethanol and spurring evacuation and a pricey environmental cleanup The DOT’s new rules also would compel FEC to disclose more information to local governments about the products traveling along its 351-mile corridor. FEC already has complied with a DOT order to slow its trains to 40 mph in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and
Jacksonville to meet requirements for large urban areas, according to Robert Ledoux, senior vice president. FEC is trying to mitigate the dangers of ethanol for first responders by removing uncertainty, according to Ledoux.
The company last month developed software — soon to be released — that discloses the contents of every train car and would allow first responders to track their progress in real-time.
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Ethanol transport along Treasure Coast rail corridor faces stricter safety rules – TC Palm