The Alliance for Safe Trains is pleased to report a legal challenge to the US Department of Transportation’s new rule released in July regarding liquefied natural gas (LNG) on rail corridors. A group of environmental organizations challenged the final ruling which would allow LNG to be carried in untested tanker cars on any railroad route in the country.
Earthjustice filed the legal challenge to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) rule on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Mountain Watershed Association, and the Sierra Club. The legal action was filed in the U.S. District Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit. https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/groups-file-legal-challenge-to-stop-bomb-trains
The Alliance was among hundreds of organizations and citizens in December 2019 who responded to PHMSA’s request for public comment on the change. The organization recognized the threat to lives and property along the Florida East Coast Rail corridor if millions of gallons of highly volatile LNG is shipped by rail along the coast of Florida.
This issue is particularly concerning as the request for the new rule came from Fortress Investment Group’s energy corporations, the same hedge fund which owns Brightline and an LNG plant in Hialeah, FL. The Alliance has long understood the hedge fund intends to build LNG plants along the rail corridor and has already received approval to export LNG from all major ports in Florida.
“To add insult to injury, the Florida Department of Transportation is moot on the prospect of LNG streaming through our communities across the state from Miami to Jacksonville and Cocoa to Tampa,” Alliance spokesperson, Susan Mehiel, commented. “There is no mystery behind Brightline’s expansion to two tracks along the FEC route. It doubles their LNG freight capacity.”
Currently, LNG is only allowed by rail in rural Alaska and in southeast Florida on the FECR rail line from the Fortress Hialeah plant to the Port of Miami. The densely populated FECR/Brightline shared route is the most dangerous in the country. The existing threat is compounded by the prospect of LNG rail tankers sharing the tracks with higher speed passenger rail cars.
LNG experts explain when the chilled gas escapes into the air during an accident, it starts to warm and forms a highly flammable cloud that can travel on air currents. Ruptured tanks can cause BLEVE’s (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions) including fireballs that cannot be extinguished but must burn out at the source. The natural disaster for a densely populated area is unimaginable.
“We look at the recent train derailment in Tempe, AZ where hazardous materials being carried caught fire and destroyed a portion of a rail bridge. Residents in the area had to evacuate,” Mehiel explained. “We can only imagine what would happen on the Treasure Coast if an LNG train derailed.” https://www.foxnews.com/us/arizona-bridge-tempe-town-lake-train-derailment-collapse-fire-phoenix
The wide-open route of the FECR/Brightline tracks through heavily populated areas is the impetus for a Rail Safety bill recently sponsored by Congressmen Bill Posey and Brian Mast. The legislation highlights the threats to motorists and pedestrians, particularly children and teens, along the unsecured corridor. Locations like Gifford Middle School, Hobe Sound Boys and Girls Club and Kiwanis Youth Park in Stuart, FL, are just yards from the open tracks and would be ground zero in the case of an LNG breach nearby.
“It would only take 22 tank cars to hold the equivalent energy of the Hiroshima bomb,” said Earthjustice attorney Jordan Luebkemann. “It’s unbelievably reckless to discard the critical, long-standing safety measures we have in place to protect the public from this dangerous cargo. That’s why we’re filing this challenge.”