Sunday, May 4, 2014

Off topic: Rail car safety

Last week, several cars of a CSX train hauling crude oil from North Dakota to Virginia derailed in Lynchburg, Va., causing a fire and spilling an undetermined amount of oil into the James River. It was one of several such incidents in the past year, and it underscores how things can go wrong all at once.

This article talks in detail about what we know about the derailment and what we don't know. About twenty years ago, I was one of several people on Ashland Oil corporate jet as that company flew Huntington-area reporters to Jeffersonville, Ind., to announce Ashland was buying several double-hull petroleum barges from Jeffboat and phasing out its single-hull barges.

I thought of that as I pondered the content of this story, which mentions how Canada is requiring railroads and their customers to phase out their older tank cars and replace them with newer, safer ones within three years. Because a lot of rail traffic crosses the border, we'll be seeing those new cars here, too, even if the U.S. government does not require them.

Given that a lot of cars used in trains are owned by customers and not by the railroads themselves, I would assume the railroads and insurance companies are pushing for better tank cars, too. Until we improve the nation's pipeline system, this is one of several steps that will be taken to make rail transport of crude, especially crude from North Dakota, safer.

Off topic: Cincinnati's airport and lost jobs

We're going off topic a bit, but only slightly. The Ohio River is built for transportation, and here are a couple of non-river stories from the news that fit in with the idea of transportation.

First, when I worked for the paper in Huntington, W.Va., I did a lot of stories about Toyota and its engine and transmission factory just outside the town of Buffalo, W.Va. I even tracked down the car with the first West Virginia-made engine, and learned that it was sold to a woman in suburban Dallas. As part of that, I made a lot of calls to what was then the Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America headquarters in Erlanger, Ky., across the Ohio River and a bit south of Cincinnati.

Here is an article explaining why Toyota is moving a lot of corporate folks out of Erlanger and moving them to Texas -- near the place where the woman bought that first Corolla with a West Virginia-made engine. Delta has cut back the number of flights it offers out of the Cincinnati airport, making it harder for Toyota executives to get to their operations in several states, most of which are east of the Mississippi River.

Back in the 1990s, people in my area used to joke about using Delta's hub at Cincinnati for their connecting flights. Because we used a regional carrier operated by Delta, we called the Cincinnati airport "Comair hell." This article says the Cincinnati airport is a shell of what it once was compared to a few years ago, before Delta merged with Northwest.

Transportation may not be the most glamorous topic for news types to cover, but this one and others show what happens when you lose access to it.