Oil/Ethanol Trains Re-Routed To Northern Ohio Passenger Rail Routes

Norfolk Southern began rerouting crude oil/ethanol trains from less-populated areas of Ohio to a much more populous route, operating next to a busy Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority rapid transit route carrying 20,000+ passengers per weekday and mixing with Amtrak trains that carry 1,600 passengers each night (Google/AAO).

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On April 7, 2020, without any public notice, Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS) permanently re-routed several daily freight trains to a more populous Ohio route.

Each is entirely comprised of more than 100 tank cars filled with highly toxic and flammable crude oil, ethanol and their empty but vaporous backhauls.

The trains will not only operate through more populous areas, but mix with and operate next to rail passenger services used by tens of thousands of people each day.

These trains were permanently rerouted from a much less populated route called the Fort Wayne Line, which passes through the namesake city in Indiana. The trains had been passing through the cities of Lima, Mansfield and Canton but as of April 7, the trains began traveling east of Fort Wayne through the cities of Fostoria, Bellevue, Vermilion, Elyria, Berea, Brook Park, Cleveland, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, Bedford, Macedonia, Hudson, Ravenna, Alliance and beyond to a major rail yard in Conway, PA near Pittsburgh.

The crude oil/ethanol trains are being re-routed from a rail corridor through nine Ohio counties (Van Wert, Allen, Hardin, Wyandot, Crawford, Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Stark) with a combined population of *892,077,  to a rail corridor through 12 Ohio counties (Paulding, Putnam, Hancock, Seneca, Sandusky, Huron, Erie, Lorain, Cuyahoga, Summit, Portage, Stark) with a combined population of **3,558,133.

This comparison is even more compelling if Stark County, which is common to both routes, is removed from the total population figures for both routes. When removed, the population difference for the previous crude oil/ethanol train route is 518,602 vs 3,184,658 for the trains’ new route.

The trains cross over several rivers near their Lake Erie mouths. This is especially true of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland. The trains cross the Cuyahoga River on a lift bridge only three nautical miles from the Lake Erie water intake crib which provides Greater Cleveland with most of its water supply.

Norfolk Southern ethanol train derailment and explosion in Columbus, Ohio, July 2012 (NPR).

NS crude oil/ethanol trains will travel within a few feet of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) Red Line rapid transit for 6.5 miles with no physical barrier between the two rail corridors to prevent derailed freight cars, each weighing up to 125 tons, from entering the path of GCRTA trains which carry more than 20,000 passengers each weekday.

The rerouting of crude oil/ethanol trains through Cleveland is also causing these dangerous shipments to share tracks with four nightly Amtrak passenger trains that carry more than 600,000 travelers per year, or an average of 1,600 passengers per night.

In July, 2012, 17 cars of an NS freight train derailed due to a broken rail near the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus. Tank cars carrying ethanol caught fire and exploded, forcing the evacuation of more than 100 homes. That train contained a variety of rail cars and shipments, unlike the trains that are being re-routed through Cleveland which are comprised entirely of 100+ tank cars carrying crude oil/ethanol.

In October 2007, two ethanol tank cars in a 112-car CSX freight train ruptured and caught fire during a derailment of 31 cars in Painesville, Ohio, forcing the evacuation of 1,300 residents within a half-mile of the scene. The incident was caused by the incorrect installation of a new rail. Firefighters were able to keep the ethanol cars cool to prevent explosions, and create a makeshift dam to prevent hazardous materials from leaking poison into the Mentor Marsh.

The City of Cleveland and other jurisdictions are considering council resolutions urging that all hazardous material shipments, by whatever mode of transportation, not originate or terminate in their communities, and be moved to less populous routes wherever and whenever physically possible.

A Norfolk Southern crude oil train with Canadian Pacific power rolls through Crestline, Ohio in the winter of 2020. This is NS’s Northern Ohio bypass route that it has asked the Federal Railroad Administration for permission to downgrade. It would do so by removing 33 miles of second main track like the one seen here switching off from the first main.

Along those same lines, NS also filed a request with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on March 20, 2020 to reduce the rail traffic handling capacity of NS’s only bypass route around Greater Cleveland and Northern Ohio. This is the route that NS’s crude oil/ethanol trains had been using until April 7.

Specifically, NS is requesting permission to remove about 33 miles of parallel second main track over a 100-mile section of its Fort Wayne Line route between mileposts 84.8 (near Alliance, Ohio) and 188.3 (near Crestline, Ohio). This second main track allows two trains traveling in opposite directions to safely pass each other. The loss of this second main track greatly reduces the rail traffic’s handling capacity of this route which is NS’s only reliever route between the nation’s rail and traffic interchange gateway in Chicago and NS’s major rail yard at Conway, PA near Pittsburgh.

Downgrading the Fort Wayne Line east of Crestline, Ohio will permanently and significantly diminish the capacity of NS’s only bypass route around Greater Cleveland and the only traffic congestion and emergency relief route for NS’s very busy Chicago Line (west of Cleveland) and Cleveland Line (east of Cleveland) into Conway Yard and points East.

The City of Cleveland and other jurisdictions may also urge that NS rescind its request to the FRA or ask the FRA to reject NS’s request to downgrade the Fort Wayne Line east of Crestline, Ohio.

Resolutions and letters of opposition to NS’s actions and proposed actions should be forwarded to Norfolk Southern Corp. (c/o Marque Ledoux, Vice President, Government Relations), the Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Surface Transportation Board, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Ohio Rail Development Commission, appropriate members of Congress, Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, as well as all appropriate members of the Ohio General Assembly.

*(sum total of 28,281 + 103,642 + 31,542 + 22,107 + 121,324 + 42,021 + 116,208 + 53,477 + 373,475)

**(sum total of 19,872 + 33,969 + 75,690 + 55,475 + 59,299 + 58,457 + 75,136 + 306,713 + 1,253,783 + 541,810 + 162,644 + 373,475)

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