Tuesday 23 October 2018

New Investigative Report Documents Nation’s Neglected Rail Infrastructure

Waterkeepers from across the country identify significant areas of concern with 114 railway bridges along known and potential routes of explosive oil trains

NEW YORK, NY AND SAN FRANCISCO, CA – November 10, 2015 –Waterkeeper Alliance, ForestEthics and a national network of Waterkeeper organizations today in releasing a new investigative report Deadly Crossings exploring the condition of our nation’s rail infrastructure. From July – September 2015, Waterkeepers from across the country documented the structural integrity of 250 railway bridges along known and potential routes of explosive oil trains, capturing the state of this often neglected infrastructure in their communities.

The Waterkeepers identified areas of concern with 114 bridges, nearly half of those observed. Photos and video footage of the bridges inspected show signs of significant stress and decay, such as rotted, cracked, or crumbling foundations, and loose or broken beams. Waterkeepers were also present when crude oil unit trains passed and observed flexing, slumping and vibrations that crumbled concrete. Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert made several reports, including a narrow rail bridge located immediately upstream of the Richmond City drinking water intake facility that provides water to approximately half a million people has significant cracking and steel braces on the foundation that appear to be a makeshift repair.

This effort was initiated out of concern for the threat posed by the 5,000 percent increase in oil train traffic since 2008. Oil train traffic increases both the strain on rail infrastructure, as well as the likelihood of a rail bridge defect leading to an oil train disaster resulting in oil spills, fires and explosions. On April 30, 2014, an oil train derailed and exploded in downtown Lynchburg. “This report and train derailments like the one in Lynchburg is a stark reminder that we need a national discussion about the safety and regulatory oversight of the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas and sensitive environmental areas, especially along rivers that supply drinking water to cities such as Richmond,” said Betsy Nicholas Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

A review of safety standards for rail bridges revealed that the federal government cedes authority and oversight of inspections and repairs to railway bridge owners. Overly broad federal law, lax regulations, dangerously inadequate inspections and oversight, and a lack of authority compound the threat from oil trains. The 2008 federal law and subsequent DOT standards regulating safety of rail bridges leaves responsibility for determining load limits, safety inspections, and maintenance with rail bridge owners.

The groups are calling for immediate, decisive action by the federal government on this issue. “What the Waterkeepers have captured shines a light on the need for immediate, independent inspections of all rail bridges that carry explosive oil trains,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “People deserve to know the state of this infrastructure and the risks posed by oil trains rolling through their communities.”

ForestEthics has calculated that oil trains directly threaten the life and safety of 25 million Americans living inside the blast zone, which is the one mile evacuation zone in the case of an oil train fire. The drinking water supplies for tens of millions more are also at risk. This report attempts to alert communities about this risk, and calls for nationwide action and reform of rail safety standards.

TAKE ACTION! Stop the Transport of Explosive Oil Over Neglected Rail Bridges



The Maryland Court of Appeals was to hear oral arguments in early November in three separate cases involving permits issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment that will govern how stormwater is handled within four of Maryland’s largest counties and Baltimore City. At issue is whether the permits that the MDE issued were strong enough and included enough public notice and public feedback. The Court of Appeals will hear the arguments and make its ruling within a few months.

The Circuit Court ruled against the environmental groups in the cases of permits for Baltimore and the three counties. The environmental groups appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. But Maryland Department of the Environment lawyers asked if the cases could be consolidated in the highest court and heard along with the Montgomery case. The court agreed.

Chavez won decisively at the Court of Special Appeals in April with the Montgomery case. The three-judge panel for the lower court called the permit requirements “vague” and “simply too general” and said it lacked meaningful deadlines. The judges ordered the document back to the department for revisions.

“All of it really ties back to the same theme — we need to have permits that are written to get results. And, monitoring to give us meaningful feedback on what the permits are actually achieving is really important,” said Chavez, an attorney with Earthjustice who is the lead on the Montgomery County case. “Overarching all of this is the accountability and transparency.”

Read more: Bay Journal, Nov. 2, 2015, Rona Kobell

Read more about our challenge to the Montgomery MS4 permit

Read more about our MS4 permit challenges


Waterkeepers' Statements on Chicken House Moratorium

Waterkeepers Chesapeake was among several groups calling for a moratorium on new chicken houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in response to Environmental Integrity Project’s report released September 8, 2015, More Phosphorous, Less Monitoring. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and local Waterkeepers released statements:

Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake: "Until the poultry industry and the government bodies that regulate it can prove that our waterways, our tourism industry, and the blue crabs and wildlife that define who we are can be safe from any harms of an expanded poultry industry, we must stop the construction of new poultry operations on the Eastern Shore. Waterkeepers Chesapeake is calling on the state to immediately issue a moratorium on new poultry house construction.” Read full statement.

Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper, said: “The level of industrialization of our rural areas due to the intensity and density of these large scale animal feeding operations prompted residents in Somerset County, in 2014, to ask for a moratorium on all new poultry operations while imploring their elected officials to protect the health and safety of their communities through zoning changes and adoption of health ordinances. The Environmental Integrity Project’s report substantiates the concerns of these citizens that their rural communities are being industrialized without proper oversight, and a moratorium is needed until the situation can be brought under control.” Read full statement.

Timothy Junkin, Director of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, said: “The Environmental Integrity Project report on phosphorus overloads highlights a profound and worsening pollution problem in Maryland, and particularly on the Eastern Shore.  New chicken houses should not be allowed until strict regulations are in place requiring new operators to dispose of their chicken waste in a way that does not add any phosphorus pollution to the Chesapeake or her tributaries.”