Posted by: bkivey | 3 September 2014

Long Train Running

The Oregonian has been beating the drum to raise awareness about ‘oil trains’: trains consisting of mile-plus long strings of tank cars transporting oil from the fields to port. Articles focused on the subject have appeared regularly throughout the year, and a cursory search on the Oregon Live website yields a
couple dozen articles on oil trains this year alone. One might think that the subject is of intense interest to the population. I would venture that the residents of the Portland metro area don’t consider the subject in their top ten concerns, and likely not in the top twenty.

The motivation for this editorial focus appears to stem from the fact that area oil train traffic has more than doubled in the last several years as oil field production in the north central states has increased, the proposal for a new oil terminal in the area, and several high profile accidents in 2013. My motivation for this post was an editorial calling for real-time notification of emergency responders to oil train movements.

One editorial in the series notes that there are gradations in crude oil: some types are more prone to highly energetic combustion in the event of an accident. The Oregonian proposes notifying responders when these types of cargoes are in transit “so that they would, if called, be adequately prepared and equipped for evacuation and spill containment.”

I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, nor how it would increase response effectiveness. I’m sure 911 dispatchers don’t send crews off to emergencies without some description of the problem. And I’m reasonably certain spill response equipment isn’t locked in a warehouse somewhere.

“Station 51”

“This is 911 dispatch, We have a derailment at the Grant St. rail crossing.”

“Is it (dum dum dum) an oil train?”


“Damn. Our spill response guy is at lunch, and we don’t have the containment equipment handy. If only we’d known when the train was coming through.”

The point of having emergency services is to have highly trained,well-equipped, competent people ready to respond at a moments notice to a wide variety of emergencies. Nearly every cargo conceivable moves by rail, some of which are more flammable and toxic than crude oil. Responders quite often don’t know what they’re dealing with until they arrive on scene. If oil trains are a concern, and in particular a certain type of oil, instead of bogging the system down with additional regulation and expense, wouldn’t it make more sense for emergency crews to treat every oil train accident as a worst-case scenario? If it is, they’re prepared; if not, they’re still prepared for the lesser eventuality.

In 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, US railroads moved 1.7 million ton-miles of freight. 712 people died from all types of rail accidents; roughly comparable to the weekly auto accident toll that year. The total number of people losing thier lives to train-only accidents: 6 (source: NTSB).

One wonders at the motivation of The Oregonian’s editorial board to flog this horse. If the desire is to raise awareness of oil train operations, then to what purpose? Usually one raises awareness of an issue to effect change, but there has been no public outcry against the way railroads operate these trains.

Given the cargoes hauled and the size of the equipment involved, US railroads do a remarkable job of safely transporting a lot of what keeps the economy running. As the editorial notes “Oregon communities along rail lines would remain in the dark about most oil trains until long after they’d rolled through.”

Which is one of the hallmarks of effective transportation.

Mo Betta’ Trains



On my day off a couple of weeks ago, I visited the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation in Portland. The picture above is the view looking in the front door. There’s a fair amount of equipment on the tracks around the facility, including a couple of restored first-generation diesels.

But the star attractions are the steam locomotives inside. Although there are some informational displays on the walls, the facility is more a locomotive shop than museum. The engine on the left is former Spokane, Portland & Seattle #700. The only surviving example of its class, it’s fully restored and operational, and usually powers the Christmas excursions.

The locomotive on the right is a recent acquisition undergoing restoration, and is expected to be operational in 2016.

Not visible on the right is former Southern Pacific #4449, a streamlined steamer and also the only surviving member of its class. I’d seen this locomotive pulling the Freedom Train in 1976, and was a bit surprised to find it here. It’s currently undergoing its 15 year inspection, and so is partially disassembled. This does allow an opportunity to inspect a lot of the mechanical parts normally hidden.

As a bonus, the shop sits right next to Union Pacific’s mainline, so you may get to see some modern railroading in action. During my visit, two trains passed simultaneously, causing every child (and a few adults) to go outside and watch.

There’s no admission fee, but donations are encouraged.

The O’Jays, Everyday



I pass this sign several times weekly, and I invariably think of the O’Jays song.

I love sushi, any kind of sushi

I love sushi, just as long as its groovin’

Portents of Winter?

The official long-range forecasts are calling for a milder than normal Winter, and with the exception of our twice-decade storm in February, last Winter was fairly mild.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some trees starting to turn and shed already. Maybe I should find some wooly bears.





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