BNSF President Greeted by Bomb Train Protestors in Chicago

By | May 27, 2015

(PUTTING THE BRAKES ON RUNAWAY PROFIT?) Today at the annual North American Rail Shippers Association, Carl Ice, president of rail company Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) had his keynote address interrupted by members of Rising Tide Chicago. The activists carried banners reading, “BNSF: Profits over Safety” and “BNSF: Bomb Trains Kill.”

BNSF moves significantly more oil by rail than any other rail company and much of that oil passes through the Chicago area.

In March, a BNSF oil train derailed and caught fire in Galena, Illinois. In May, another BNSF oil train derailed and caught fire in North Dakota.

“BNSF makes billions of dollars putting our communities and climate at risk,” said protester Kevin Oliver. “So we took this action to take a stand against the obscene wealth that is being generated at the expense of our safety.”

Oliver was correct about BNSF making billions of dollars for its parent company Berkshire Hathaway, run by famed investor Warren Buffett. Berkshire Hathaway purchased BNSF in 2009 and it has turned out to be an amazing investment, if you don’t mind the occasionally exploding oil train.

The success of the investment was summed up best by Jeff Mathews who has written books about Berkshire Hathaway.

“He [Buffett] stole it,” Matthews told Bloomberg. “He’s got to feel really good that he bought it when he did, because it’s a wonderful asset, and it’s done nothing but get more valuable in the time that he’s owned it.”

And that increase in value is directly related to the huge increase in moving Bakken crude oil in BNSF unit trains in the past several years. Trains that do not have modern braking systems, which is one of the issues raised by Rising Tide Chicago. And BNSF is certainly in no hurry to part with any of their profits to install modern braking systems.

As reported on DeSmog, BNSF and the rail and oil industries have lobbied extensively against requirements that the industry upgrade the oil trains to use a modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking system.

And while the new regulations released earlier this month will require some oil trains to use ECP brakes by 2021 and all of them by 2023, the American Petroleum Institute has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation challenging this requirement, which is likely to delay even that long timetable.

The length of time the oil and rail industries have been allowed by the new regulations to implement safer technologies even surprised the former chair of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Cynthia Quarterman. PHMSA is the agency responsible for the new regulations and Quarterman led that agency for most of the time the regulations were being developed.

“That was the biggest surprise, by far,” Quarterman said in an interview with Argus after the regulations were released. “The push-back for five years for most things, I thought it was a substantial push-back in terms of dates.”

Extending the timeline for the regulations has been a top priority of the oil and rail lobbyists and their partners in congress in their efforts to weaken the new regulations and protect profits.

Prior to release of the new regulations Quarterman told USAToday that she thought ECP brakes were a top priority when it came to improving oil-by-rail safety.

“The more I think about it, the more I think that the ECP brakes may be more important than the tank car itself,” Quarterman said. “Because it would stop the pileup of the cars when there’s a derailment or when there’s a need to brake in a very quick fashion.”

(read more) from DeSmog Blog

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