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Tampa Port Authority discusses recent train derailment, tank fires

TAMPA — Authorities released new details Tuesday about three emergency incidents at the Port of Tampa in recent weeks: an ethanol train derailment and two fires that broke out in the same fertilizer tank.

Port Authority senior director of engineering Bruce Laurion told the governing board that the July 25 derailment of 11 tanker cars that leaked 4,500 gallons of highly flammable ethanol happened because of a defect in the rail.

Engineers for CSX, which runs the railroad, determined the defect likely started as a tiny bubble inside the metal but became a walnut-sized void, he said.

"In time it grows," Laurion said, "as the railroad car went over it sheered the rail."

The train was going only 5 mph, he said. The locomotive engineer and conductor aboard the 81-car train were not injured. That area of the port was closed for several hours that day while fire crews contained the spill and workers removed the rail cars.

Initial repairs cost the port $15,000, but repairing the concrete at the rail crossing will require an additional $100,000. Port CEO Paul Anderson said CSX would step up rail inspections, and that the railroad company's insurance could be used to reimburse the port.

"It was an incredible example of inter-agency response to this incident," he said.

Aug. 8 marked the first of two fires to break out inside a sulfur storage tank in five days. The first produced a toxic cloud that led authorities to order the public in Harbour Island and parts of town to temporarily stay indoors.

An executive with Gulf Sulphur Services, which operates the tank, told the board corrosion likely contributed. The facility was built in the early 1960s and the tank is being repaired.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, a member of the port's board, said the port and its businesses need to do a better job communicating with the public during an emergency.

"People are very unclear about how the alerts are done," she said. "What types of situations are these? How serious are they?"

Anderson said the port has no "regulatory authority" over port businesses. But he said he would use the Tampa Cooperative Safety Initiative to bring together port businesses and first-responders to improve communication, inspections and safety plans.

"You can't hide from the bad," Anderson said. "We want to be transparent."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, thalji@tampabay.com or @jthalji on Twitter.

Tampa Port Authority discusses recent train derailment, tank fires 08/20/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 11:33pm]
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