Pan Am Railways reviews safety protocols for hauling crude oil

Coldbrook Road in Hermon is blocked by a tanker car as Pan Am Railways officials tend to a derailment along a section of track close by.
Coldbrook Road in Hermon is blocked by a tanker car as Pan Am Railways officials tend to a derailment along a section of track close by.
Posted Sept. 12, 2013, at 5 p.m.

Maine’s sole railway hauling crude oil through Maine will review its safety protocols in response to news that the tankers that exploded in Quebec in July, killing 47 people, were mislabeled, the company’s senior vice president said Thursday.

Pan Am Railways workers check the manifests, bills of lading, and placards and also conduct visual inspections of cars carrying hazardous materials like those that destroyed the center of Lac-Megantic on July 6, Cynthia Scarano, senior vice president of the company, said.

In the visual inspection, “we are looking for physical defects, anything that seems wrong with a tanker,” Scarano said Thursday.

Canadian media reported Wednesday that the Lac-Megantic train, owned by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, was hauling a more flammable gasolinelike fuel than the crude oil it was supposed to be carrying.

The oil came from a U.S. Bakken oilfield and was headed for an Atlantic Canadian refinery. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board said documents showed the cargo belonged to the Packing Group III category, which describes regular crude oil.

But tests showed the oil actually belonged to the Packing Group II category, which has the characteristics of gasoline and is much more explosive.

Railway workers accept tankers and their contents from the oilfields or other customers ready for shipping, as they do with most any other product, Scarano said.

“We don’t have the ability to check the contents of a tanker,” Scarano said Thursday.

Expecting a railway company to test the contents of a tanker for its flammability would be like asking beer-truck drivers to test ales for their alcohol content, she said.

Still, Pan Am officials will review the latest reports to see whether their procedures can be tightened. The company will continue to haul crude oil through Maine to be transshipped to the Irving refinery in Canada, she said, though market conditions recently have driven down traffic somewhat.

“It is definitely a commodity we are interested in and actively seeking,” Scarano said of crude oil. “Not only are we trying to build up business, we are trying to make up business that we lost because of the recession” of 2008 and other factors.

Lumber shipments are down because new-home construction has not rebounded much since the recession. Coal shipments are down because electrical plants are not burning as much as they used to, Scarano said.

Grain shipments have increased and shipments from Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company carrying goods from Europe into Portland, also have boosted business. Pan Am is looking for customers to help fill container ship return voyages, Scarano said.

The owner of 2,000 miles of track that run from upstate New York through Massachusetts and northern New England to Canada, Pan Am has hired five Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway workers laid off by the company before it filed for bankruptcy, Scarano said.

The hiring offsets retirements more than it complements company growth, Scarano said.

“When we have a trained skilled railroad employee [available], we like to bring them on because we will have natural attrition,” she said.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic continues to ship product. Its attorney this week filed documents in U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking to consolidate the 11 claims filed against it for the Lac-Megantic disaster into one case to be heard in Bangor, officials said.

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