Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Railroad Industry 'Strives toward Safety' Wabtec CEO Says It Studies Accidents to Find Remedies

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Railroad Industry 'Strives toward Safety' Wabtec CEO Says It Studies Accidents to Find Remedies

Article excerpt

When a train carrying crude oil derailed in Vandergrift last month, it once again raised concerns about how safe the country's rail system is. No one was injured in the accident, which is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, but it was one of two derailments in Pennsylvania in the span of a month.

And it prompted the Association of American Railroads to introduce a slate of new, voluntary safety practices for moving crude oil by rail, including increased track inspections, lower speeds through urban areas and updates to braking systems.

The association argued that the industry has a historic focus on safety.

"Railroads have a long history of developing self-imposed safety measures," said Holly Arthur, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.- based industry trade group. "Since it's privately owned, it's an industry that has always had a sense that the responsibility for safety is something that rests with the railroads themselves."

Wilmerding-based Wabtec's future depends on that -- as has its past.

Wabtec's roots in the rail industry date to Westinghouse Air Brake Co. in 1869 and founder George Westinghouse's own experience in a train collision in upstate New York.

According to the book "Wilmerding and the Westinghouse Air Brake Company," part of the "Images of America" history series, the idea of a compressed-air-powered braking system occurred to Mr. Westinghouse when a brakeman in that incident told him, "You can't stop a train in a moment."

The first test of Westinghouse's air brake system, according to the book, successfully prevented a train from hitting a horse-and- buggy that had wandered onto the tracks.

Over the decades, the company has established itself as a center for safety innovations, with its technology leading the way in many of the rail industry's improvements and changes.

"Every business has a theme, a central idea," said Wabtec CEO Albert Neupaver. "The reason Wabtec exists is to make a positive impact on rail safety."

The boom in transporting oil

The most recent rail accidents have involved trains carrying crude oil, including a train that derailed and exploded in Quebec in July, killing 47 people and spilling 1.5 million gallons of crude.

On Feb. 13, a 120-car Norfolk Southern train bound for New Jersey derailed in Vandergrift, striking a building and spilling 4,000 gallons of crude oil. That marked the second incident just in Pennsylvania in a month. On Jan. 20, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Philadelphia.

Transport of crude oil via rail is not a new practice, Ms. Arthur noted. "Remember that railroads have moved oil since they first began -- [John] Rockefeller developed his own pipeline because he didn't want to pay [William] Vanderbilt to move it by railroad."

But the volume of oil being moved by rail has increased, as North American production has increased.

The Energy Information Administration estimates U.S. crude oil production will reach 8.5 million barrels per day in 2014, compared with about 7.5 million barrels in 2013 and about 5 million barrels per day in 2008, the lowest point in the past two decades.

According to the Association of American Railroads statistics, railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013, or about 11. …

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