Sunday, March 30, 2014


I'm surprised there has not been more coverage of what may be the bigger energy story impacting Pittsburgh these days, namely the unprecedented flows of oil by rail through the city center. But PG/PublicSource has this today.1960s-era rail cars hauling crude oil badly need makeover as accidents multiply. The thing is, we really have no idea how much oil is traveling through Pittsburgh by rail. Rail data, as I've mentioned in the past, is highly proprietary unlike much other transportation data.  In the article there is an explanation for the lack of public information:
Railway officials don't reveal their routes for hazardous materials for security reasons, and aren't required to by law. However, a state official said Bakken crude does come through Pittsburgh on the way to Philadelphia.
So we have a confirmation that there exists oil traveling by rail through Pittsburgh. About the limit of the disclosure there it seems.

But that explanation does not prevent more data being available elsewhere. The story does not mention that per PlanPhilly: Philadelphia to gain access to real-time CSX freight data. Thus the obvious question. Is anyone in Western Pennsylvania able to access the same real-time data.  I bet if we had cursory information on the flow of oil by rail through Pittsburgh, it would more than compare to the flow through Philadelphia. This all may be a bigger issue here than in Philly when you think about it, especially when you look at all the rail lines through out city center (if you are ever at Eastside look over the fence to see just how close.)

Think I am worrying about low probability events. How low is low? We are coming up on an anniversary of a rail accident that once forced the evacuation of much of Pittsburgh's East End. Really is something to at least plan for in the here and now.

But back to the data Philadelphia is (going to?) get.  When the same data is needed here, it won't be the time to figure out the best way to get it.  That adage to plan now applies to data as much as everything else, maybe more so.


Blogger Transpobug said...

You are absolutely right about the potential hazard this represents for the whole city and, in particular, the entire East End and South Side Flats which have rail tracks for heavily used freight lines. The past year has seen an alarming increase in the number of freight rail accidents involving crude oil. The question is, whose responsibility is it to monitor the flow of crude oil by freight train? The city? The state? The feds? This crude oil is travelling across every kind of jurisdictional line there is.

Monday, March 31, 2014 11:53:00 AM  

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