Fire Rescue warning: Train explosion with liquefied natural gas could lead to disaster

Posted on December 15, 2015

By Lisa Broadt of TCPalm

Explosion of a railroad tanker car filled with liquefied-natural-gas could kill 400 people and injure 500 more, according to Martin County Fire Rescue.

That potential danger could be headed through the Treasure Coast soon.

Florida East Coast Railway could begin transporting the odorless, highly flammable gas along its corridor within weeks, Martin County Fire Rescue Chief Dan Wouters told the County Commission Tuesday.

Since May — when Fire Rescue first raised the issue of hazardous materials transported along the 351-mile Miami-to-Jacksonville rail corridor — the department has obtained details on the shipments and officials have met with railroad representatives to learn more about liquefied natural gas, he said.

The railroad has "disputed whether or not these incidents would occur," but has provided access to its databases so Fire Rescue can see which trains are carrying hazardous materials, including liquefied natural gas, Wouters said.

Fire Rescue's study was based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency model and used a potential explosion at Southeast Cove Road and Southeast Dixie Highway, in unincorporated Martin County, to determine possible fatalities and injuries.

MORE | Read the complete study below

Florida East Coast Railway said it is committed to railroad safety.

"We operate all of our trains and transportation of commodities strictly within the code of federal regulation, which mandates the process around loading, securing, testing and transporting of materials," said Alex Vohr, the railroad's assistant vice president for operations policy and procedure. "Our employees and their families live and work in these communities along our rail line, and safety is critically important."

Treasure Coast government officials over recent months have expressed concerns about liquefied natural gas, and Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor on Tuesday said those worries persist. "The city has concerns whenever chemicals are moving by rail or streets within our community," O'Connor said.

Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said she intends to conduct her own research on the matter.

"I have concerns, yes, and would be eager to know more about the possibility and probability of this happening," Hudson said.

Up to 3,000 gallons a day would be transported by the end of this month, as long as the railroad can obtain the necessary permits, according to Wouters. Next year, the railroad plans to begin using it as fuel for several of its locomotives, according to the railroad. Natural gas is cleaner and more efficient than the diesel the railroad currently uses, he added.

Eventually, Florida East Coast could transport hundreds of times that volume because subsidiaries of Fortress Investment Group — parent company of Florida East Coast Railway and All Aboard Florida — within seven years could build, own and operate a liquefied-natural-gas facility in Titusville and the freight railroad could transport 30 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas annually, according an agreement approved in May by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Florida East Coast Railway would be one of the first in the United States to experiment with transporting the fuel, the chief told county commissioners. Florida East Coast already transports other hazardous materials, including daily shipments of ethanol, according to the railroad.

An accident — Martin County Fire Rescue assumed one, 10,000-gallon rail car — could have devastating effects on the communities that line the railroad tracks, including large, long-lasting fires and flammable vapor clouds that could asphyxiate those nearby.

An explosion at Southeast Bridge Road and Southeast Dixie Highway could kill 230, injure 230 and seriously damage or destroy about 200 homes, according to the Fire Rescue report.

A similar explosion at Southeast Monterey Road and Southeast Dixie Highway could kill one, injure 170 and destroy 60 homes, Fire Rescue said.

The dangers of liquefied natural gas would increase when All Aboard Florida's Brightline trains begin using the same tracks for 16 daily passenger round trips between Miami and Orlando, according to Wouters. Construction of Brightline already has begun between Miami and West Palm Beach, and service there is to begin in early 2017, with full service beginning in late 2017.

A recent trend toward transporting ethanol, crude oil and other hazardous and highly flammable materials by rail has raised safety concerns nationwide, and earlier this year prompted the Federal Railroad Administration to issue stricter safety regulations.

Click here to view original article