Canada’s worst rail disaster since 1910 highlights a risk that has dogged railroads for more than a century: brake failures on runaway trains, Bloomberg News reports. Rail safety consultants say securing two types of brakes -- air and hand -- would have averted the wreck in Quebec that killed as many as 50 people. An engineer failed to properly set the hand brakes on the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. train whose 72 cars rolled from a parking spot into downtown Lac-Megantic on July 6, according to the head of the railroad.
U.S. power grid operator Southwest Power Pool on Wednesday agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty to federal energy regulators for possible violations of electric reliability standards in December 2007.
A train disaster that killed five people in Quebec promises to touch off debate over the safety of shipping crude oil by rail or pipelines such as TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL, Bloomberg News reports. Canada shipped about $69.3 billion of oil exports last year, mainly to the U.S. With the industry waiting for a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by President Barack Obama and from Canadian regulators on approval of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway route through British Columbia, more shipments by rail are being planned.
Four days before Hurricane Sandy struck in October, Consolidated Edison Co. sought 1,800 power- line-repair workers from its fellow utilities to help respond to the massive storm brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. It got just 32. Three days later, the New York-based utility boosted its request to 2,500. It got 171. Con Edison’s difficulties getting help from the industry’s mutual aid program, under which U.S. utilities send workers to other regions during emergencies, show how years of cost cuts and regulatory pressure to keep prices low has left them less prepared to restore power from the biggest natural disasters. “Utilities do not have the required field personnel at hand to effectively respond to large storms,” the Moreland Commission, a panel convened by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate utility storm response and preparation, said in a June 22 report. “National reforms are needed.”
A new report from the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses and the London-based Royal United Services Institute, two of the NATO alliance's front-line strategy centers, recommends putting more effort into fighting global warming than securing reliable supplies of fossil fuels, Inside Climate News reports. The authors call the habitual American fixation on winning energy independence through expanded North American production of oil and natural gas "misguided." They say the "only sustainable solution" to the problem of energy insecurity is not through more drilling, but through energy efficiency and renewable fuels, like biofuels to replace oil.
TransCanada Corp., which says Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built, isn’t planning to use infrared sensors or fiber-optic cables to detect spills along the system’s 2,000-mile path to Texas refineries from fields in Alberta, BusinessWeek reports. Pipeline companies have been slow to adopt new leak detection technology, including infrared equipment on helicopters flying 80 miles an hour or acoustic sensors that can identify the sound of oil seeping from a pinhole-sized opening. Instead of tools that can find even the smallest leaks, TransCanada will search for spills using software-based methods and traditional flyovers and surveys.