Call for funds to fix Melbourne’s Loop problems

MELBOURNE’S City Loop has ”heavy” concrete corrosion, water ”leaching all over the place” and emergency systems that should be improved, inspections by Victoria’s independent transport safety watchdog have revealed.

Alan Osborne, the man in charge of safety on Victoria’s rail system, has called on the Baillieu government to commit significant funds to fix the problems of the city’s underground tunnels.

Mr Osborne, the director of transport safety at Transport Safety Victoria, ordered the inspections after The Age revealed in September that the loop’s serious structural problems had been ignored by successive state governments.

Mr Osborne told The Age that there was no immediate risk to passenger safety, but it was important the issues were dealt with to avoid deterioration and possible derailments. ”There’s a lot of inspections … but there comes a point where you need to bite the bullet and do some major pieces of work,” he said.

The position and width of the walkway means that, in the event of a train fire in the loop, passengers in wheelchairs would have to wait, Mr Osborne concluded. He said inspections by Transport Safety Victoria had confirmed:

  • The fasteners holding the rails to the tunnel floor were ”quite heavily corroded” in some places. The extra water ”leaching all over the place” and problems with the concrete had created ”a more corrosive environment than was expected”.
  • Drawings of the fire-protected areas of underground stations have been lost.
  • A number of systems at the underground stations, such as testing of emergency warnings, could be improved.

Under freedom of information laws The Age requested further reports on the state of the loop from its state-owned insurer, the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority. But the authority declined the request, saying the release of information about safety procedures, access points and general emergency responses was a security risk.

Mr Osborne said he would like to see a plan put forward for the long-term renewal of the tunnel, which carries more than 150,000 Melburnian commuters each week day. This would include updating the loop’s control systems, the ventilation system, improving waterproofing and drainage and replacing the concrete rail sleepers.

This is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars, but some of the work is already afoot. A $2.5 million project is attempting to seal water leaks, 6000 sleepers will be repaired by March 2013, and the Department of Transport is con- ducting further tests on the ventilation system after a CSIRO report found smoke extraction fans were performing to a capacity of only 25 per cent.

Metro spokeswoman Geraldine Mitchell said two independent engineering assessments on the loop had concluded safety standards had been met. ”It is important to note that extensive tests carried out by Metro have not found any serious safety issues.”

The company conducts daily inspections, weekly walk-throughs by a shift gang, monthly bolt inspections and six-monthly rail flaw inspections, Ms Mitchell said.

The department said the structural integrity of the loop remained ”fit for purpose”.

Mr Mulder said he continued to receive advice about the loop issues from the department, but any major works to the emergency walkway were impractical. ”Because of the presence of utilities [tunnel services] and the tunnel’s shape, altering the walkways to be elevated would narrow their width and reduce passenger headroom,” he said.



New report sheds more light on U.S.S. Independence corrosion issue

A new report from Maritime Reporter & Engineering News sheds a little more light on the corrosion issues that hampered the U.S.S. Independence earlier this year.
Independence is the first littoral combat ship built at Austal USA’sMobile River shipyard. The company is Mobile’s largest industrial employer, working its way from 2,400 employees to about 4,000 over the next few years.

Austal worked as a subcontractor for General Dynamics Corp. on Independence and the future U.S.S. Coronado, which is under construction now. Austal will be the prime contractor on 10 more LCS after that.

Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Chris Johnson is quoted in the Maritime Reporter story saying:
“The General Dynamics and Austal USA approach to prevent corrosion on LCS 2 was based on commercial practices and included a coating system on the exposed metal, electrical insulation of dissimilar metals and cathodic protection via sacrificial zinc anodes in the water jet tunnels. This design proved to be less effective than intended due to multiple factors including improper electrical insulation during installation. To provide more comprehensive protection, an ICCP system and additional sacrificial protection design is being finalized and will be implemented on LCS 2 during its Post Shakedown Availability (PSA); has already been installed on LCS 4; and will be included on LCS 6 and follow as a baseline change prior to the start of construction.”

More Corrosion discovered at the Champlain Bridge

Repairs to the Champlain Bridge will involve a new type of reinforcement to deal with growing problems with corrosion in the bridge’s deck.

In 2012, there will be at least that many weekend closings, maybe more, said Glen Carlin, general manager of the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Inc.

Carlin was speaking at a media briefing he said is part of a new effort by the federal agency to reassure the public about safety and to be more transparent about the state of the Champlain.

In 2011, $33.3 million (C$) was spent on Champlain repairs, including the repaving of 2.75 kilometres, the replacement of five expansion joints and the reinforcement of several girders and piers.

In 2012, the tab will be $34 million (C$), including 700 metres of repaving and four new expansion joints.

For the first time in 2012, repairs may be done in winter, but they will not affect traffic because they will take place under the bridge, Carlin said.

In the past, reinforcement work involved adding high strength steel cables along the outside edge of the bridge.

Now, work will also involve installing steel cables transversally under the bridge.

“The beams on the bridge are all knit together” with transverse cables, Carlin said. “These cables are starting to get affected by corrosion.” The new cables “will reinstate this transverse posttensioning.”

In 2012, there will be a lot more work on two adjacent federally owned stretches: The Bonaventure Expressway, between the Champlain and the Lachine Canal. The government will spend $11 million, up from $7.2 million.

Highway 15, between the Champlain and Atwater Ave. Ottawa will spend $19 million, almost five times the $4.2 million spent this year. This hike is because of major repairs to Champlain approaches.

A 2010 inspection report obtained by The Gazette last month showed that two overpasses on the Montreal approach to the Champlain are in “mediocre” condition, their concrete crumbling and reinforcement steel corroding. One overpass must be replaced while the other must undergo major repairs.

In addition, the report said a secondary span known as the Nuns’ Island Bridge is deteriorating “very quickly” and requires major repairs.

The Champlain is decaying prematurely because it was not designed to withstand the use of road salt. Because of its unusual design, Ottawa says it would be too expensive and disruptive to traffic to repair it for the long term.

In 2009, Ottawa began a 10-year, $212-million program to repair the Champlain until a new span is built.

This year, another $158 million was added – $27 million for the Champlain, the rest for Highway 15 and the Bonaventure.

The work will extend the life of the structures until 2021. Ottawa says it hopes to have a $3-billion replacement bridge in place by then.

“If the bridge is going to be late by a year or two, we will do what would have to be done to make sure that the existing bridge can be extended by that type of duration,” Carlin said.

“More than that, it’s kind of like planning for something we shouldn’t be planning for. The goal is to get the new bridge in place within the next 10 years.”

A 2010 study warned the Champlain was so dilapidated there was a risk of a partial bridge collapse.

Major repairs have been done since then and the Champlain is monitored closely, Carlin said.

“We are fully confident in its safety. We wanted to show everything that we’re doing to ensure that any risks that are out there on the bridge are being managed,” he said.

“If there’s any doubt regarding safety, we’ll take any measures that are required,” he added, including closing lanes or the entire bridge.

The bridge is crucial for commuters and the transportation of goods. It’s used by about 160,000 vehicles daily, including 14,400 trucks and 400 public-transit buses

Canada energy regulator lax on pipelines

Canada’s energy regulator has failed to make adequate checks to ensure pipeline operators fix safety problems uncovered at their facilities and keep emergency procedures up to date, the country’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development said on Tuesday.

In a report to Parliament that raises serious questions about the safety of moving dangerous goods through pipelines and along highways, Commissioner Scott Vaughan also said the federal environment ministry has been lax in enforcing regulations and slow to deal with shortcomings in training of officers.

Vaughan released the report as the National Energy Board and environmental regulators prepare to conduct hearings into Enbridge Inc’s C$5.5 billion ($5.3 billion) Northern Gateway Pipeline to the Pacific Coast from the Alberta oil sands. The project is opposed by environmentalists and many aboriginal groups, partly due to fears of pipeline ruptures and oil spills along the route and in coastal waters.

The NEB regulates 71,000 km (44,000 miles) of oil and gas pipelines in Canada, more than half of them less than 30 years old, but nearly a third built between 30 and 50 years ago. More than 12 percent are more than half a century old.

The commissioner singled out as deficient the board’s compliance verification, or making sure that regulated pipelines and other facilities are being fixed once problems are identified.

He noted that 29 of a sample of 45 compliance activities had identified problems with systems and processes aimed at ensuring safety, pipeline integrity and environmental protection. In 93 percent of those, Vaughan found no evidence that the board had followed up to make sure the concerns had been addressed.

“As a consequence, we have concluded that the board has not exercised a key element of regulatory monitoring: ensuring that identified weaknesses have been corrected by the regulated companies,” he wrote.

In addition, the report said another NEB responsibility, making sure companies’ procedure manuals for emergencies such as oil spills and gas leaks are up to date, is also lacking.


Pipeline safety bill clears Congress, headed to president

A pipeline safety bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday night was headed to President Obama for his expected signature.

The measure, which moved through Congress with unusual speed, gained bipartisan support after a number of high-profile accidents around the country, including a pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif.,  last year that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

“This bill makes sure pipeline operators know the limits of their pipelines and abide by them, and allows for more inspectors and harsher penalties to enforce the law,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “It requires the first-ever pressure testing for older pipelines and requires automatic shut-off valves where feasible. In short, this bill puts in place common-sense safeguards that should have existed years ago.”

Fellow California Sen. Barbara Boxer also praised the legislation. “While still more needs to be done, this bill represents an important step toward ensuring the safety of our communities by increasing pipeline inspections and imposing tougher penalties for safety violations,” she said.

The bill, which passed the House on Monday, would double the maximum fine for safety violations to $2 million, authorize more pipeline inspectors and require automatic shut-off valves on new or replaced pipelines “where economically, technically and operationally feasible.”

But it does not include a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to require such shut-off valves on existing pipelines in heavily populated areas. Industry groups oppose that idea because of the cost.


Coal plant to remain shut for months

The first of two new coal-fired power plants that We Energies opened in Oak Creek (Milwaukee) in recent years will be out of service for several months after an inspection revealed a problem that could lead to turbine corrosion over the long term.

The problem was detected after the plant was taken offline for inspections and maintenance. The plant remains under warranty to the contractor that built it, Bechtel Power Corp.

Utility spokesman Brian Manthey said deposits were found on blades of the coal plant’s steam turbine. Most of the blades that have deposits are being cleaned but some need to be replaced, a process that will take months.

“It’s likely that we will have it back in the spring,” he said.

The second plant, which opened this year, remains in operation, as does the original Oak Creek coal plant, built in the 1950s and 1960s.

The cause of the problem remains under investigation. The problem did not affect operations of the plant, which was online and operating well during the summer heat wave when demand for power was high, he said.

“It’s a precautionary step so that we prevent any long-term damage,” Manthey said.

The utility hasn’t seen any problems of this type on the second coal plant, which opened early this year. The deposits were found as part of an extensive review of the power plant because the plant was nearing the end of its two-year warranty, he said.

“We’ll do the same planned maintenance and inspection toward the end of the warranty period for that unit as well,” Manthey said. “We don’t have any indication that this is happening there.”

As a matter of routine, utilities take plants out of service in the fall to inspect for problems and conduct repairs. This inspection was extensive because the plant is still under warranty and was nearing the February end of the warranty period, Manthey said.

“You want to take care of these thingsnow while it’s still under warraanty,” he said.

The fact that it is still under warranty means that Bechtel or other contractors may have to foot the bill for the problem rather than We Energies and its customers. But that will depend on the investigation into the cause.

“But this is the time to do that, to determine what you’ve got and to see what repairs need to be made and who’s responsible for it,” he said.

The plant experienced some unrelated problems last year during its full first year in operation. Those problems were in a different part of the plant, the boiler feed pump, and have been resolved.

The Oak Creek project was the most expensive construction project in state history, with a total cost of $2.35 billion. We Energies is the primary owner of the plant, along with Madison Gas & Electric Co. of Madison and WPPI Energy of Sun Prairie.

The plants were built to meet demand for rising demand for electricity after Wisconsin experienced power supply problems in the late 1990s.

Construction costs for the project came in higher than the amount approved by the state Public Service Commission, and a proceeding next year concerning We Energies power rates will wrestle with how much of the higher costs should be paid by utility customers.


Congressional leaders OK tougher pipeline safety rules

Legislation toughening safety rules for the nation’s network of gas pipelines has emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, leading to likely approval in Congress.

The measure, inspired by the 2010 San Bruno disaster and other recent pipeline accidents, would double the maximum fine for safety violations to $2 million and require automatic and remote-controlled shutoff valves “where economically, technically and operationally feasible” on new gas pipelines.

Gas companies nationwide would be required to meet maximum pressure standards on all pipelines, meaning that older pipelines now exempted from high-pressure water tests would have to undergo such inspections. California regulators repealed the so-called grandfather clause in the state after a 1956 pipeline that had never been tested with high-pressure water exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

However, the legislation doesn’t go as far as some safety advocates had hoped.

Only newly installed pipelines will be required to have automatic and remote shutoff valves in densely populated areas. The National Transportation Safety Board, along with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, and California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, had urged after the San Bruno disaster that existing lines be retrofitted with such valves.

Automatic shutoff valves became an issue after it took Pacific Gas and Electric Co. workers more than 90 minutes to manually cut the flow of gas after the San Bruno explosion in September 2010.

“In the grand scheme of things, given how things work around here, there are improvements,” said Erin Ryan, an aide to Speier. “As far as we’re concerned, they’re not strong enough, but there are improvements.”

Research efforts at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would receive additional money if the bill passes.

But the legislation might also restore industry control over the federal pipeline research program by requiring industry funding.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ordered an end to industry funding and influence in the program in June after a Chronicle investigation.

The Chronicle investigation found that since 2002, two-thirds of the federal agency’s pipeline studies were largely funded by pipeline operators or organizations they control. In some cases, critical studies into issues such as the safety of aging lines were edited by trade organizations that have advocated reduced regulation, the Chronicle found.

The bill in Congress says federal research into pipeline safety must get at least 30 percent funding from “non-federal sources,” which traditionally have been pipeline companies and their trade groups.

The legislation is expected to go to a final vote in the House early this week.

Playground equipment removed after safety failure

A playground in County Durham (UK) has been reduced to just one toy after its other rides and equipment were removed for failing a health and safety inspection.

For years Allergate play area in Durham City had swings, a see-saw and slides, but they have now been taken away, leaving just a spring-mounted toy bike.

The council said there were no immediate plans to replace the equipment which was “corroded”.

But local mother Ruth Pierce said there was nothing wrong with the toys.

Ms Pierce, who has a two-year-old son Joe, said: “We only walk through the park now – there is nothing to come here for.

“I’m all for things being safe but there is a limit – there was nothing wrong with the equipment, except perhaps the roundabout which was a bit dodgy, but the rest of it was all fine.”

Steve Howell, head of sport and leisure at Durham County Council, said the authority had spent more than £1m on improving its playgrounds in the past year.

He said: “All the council’s play areas are regularly inspected by trained staff to ensure they do not pose a risk to the children coming to enjoy them.

“In this case the inspection showed significant corrosion on all equipment which could not be safely repaired.

“While play areas are covered by range of background legislation including health and safety regulations, the most important thing is for staff to use their training and common sense.

“If a piece of equipment represents a potential hazard the safest thing to do is take immediate and appropriate action.”

He said that this was the first time the council had removed play equipment without “prior notice”.


Northern Gateway regulatory decision expected months later than Enbridge target

CALGARY – The regulatory panel weighing the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline said Tuesday it will likely make its decision in about two years, several months later than estimated by the builder, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.

The proposed 1,200-kilometre pipeline would ship oilsands crude from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto tankers that could transport it to Asia — providing exporters with alternatives to the United States, the biggest importer of Canadian crude.

However, as with the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada Ltd. (TSX:TRP) hopes to build from Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast in the southern United States, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal faces opposition on environmental and other grounds.

Thousands of people are set to speak at hearings across northern British Columbia and Alberta between January of next year and April 2013.

The joint review panel said Tuesday, in announcing several dates for the hearings, that it expects to release an environmental assessment report in the fall of 2013, and announce its final decision around the end of that year.

Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said in May he was anticipating an early 2013 decision, but it’s clear from the hearing schedule that won’t be the case.

The company issued a statement late Tuesday saying it “welcomes clarity around the hearing process.”

“We understand that there is significant public interest in the Northern Gateway project. The JRP seems to be ensuring that there is a thorough inclusive process, and we are supportive of that. We see value in a well-defined process and remain committed to the regulatory review,” Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said in an emailed statement.

Enbridge also faces a longer review process than it expected for a proposal to reverse part of an oil pipeline in Ontario.

The National Energy Board said Monday it will begin oral hearings this fall into Enbridge’s Line 9 proposal.

Enbridge originally aimed to begin work on the $20-million Line 9 reversal project in early 2012, with start-up anticipated in the fall of next year.

“While the schedule extends further into 2012 than we had anticipated, we respect the board’s desire to enable stakeholders and communities affected by the project to have the opportunity to participate in the regulatory review process,” Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Varey said in an earlier email Tuesday.

Opposition to major pipeline projects has grown since the disastrous offshore spill in the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s leased Deepwater Horizon rig experienced a fatal explosion in April 2010.

The pipeline industry’s reputation as a relatively reliable and environmentally safe way to transport oil was tarnished by a much smaller spill in July 2010, involving an Enbridge pipeline in southern Michigan.

There have also been periodic small-scale leaks at the original Keystone pipeline and a major spill at the Rainbow pipeline in northern Alberta operated by Plains Midstream Canada.


Willamette Locks to Close due to Corrosion

Corrosion has forced the closure of the locks at Willamette Falls, and Congress doesn’t have the money to fix them. Diana Fredlund, with the Army Corps of Engineers says they’re not used often enough by commercial river traffic.

The federal government sank more than $2 million of stimulus money into attempts to salvage the 138-year-old series of locks that gave commercial and pleasure boats access around the 40-foot falls.

But corps officials say the anchors on three of seven gates are near failure, and there’s no money to fix them.

“The level of risk of something bad happening has reached the point where we cannot in good conscience continue operating those locks for any reason,” said Scott Clemans, a spokesman for the Corps’ Portland division.

The locks have been open on only a limited basis in recent years, but the closure will have an economic impact, for example 10-15 jobs at Wilsonville Concrete Products and Marine Industrial Construction.

Owner Dave Bernert’s family has operated tugboats and businesses moving material through the locks since the 1880s.

The closure, he said, strands two dredges, three tugboats and four barges in the upper portion of the river. It also cuts him off from his moorage site in Wilsonville, leaving him to look for alternatives downstream. The idled equipment means he’ll need fewer workers for his marine business.

About 75 people work full time for the companies. Bernert said he hopes to retrain laid-off workers for his concrete business.

“We’re going to do our best to make sure we don’t have to let anybody go,” he said. “But if we can’t work jobs with 20 percent of the equipment, we don’t need the people.”

The locks 25 miles south of the Willamette’s confluence with the Columbia are more than 3,500 feet long, with seven gates and four chambers that raise or lower vessels. They opened on Jan. 1, 1873, and had several owners. The government bought the infrastructure in 1915.

A report, completed last December, identified the anchors as a source of concern. Clemans said it wasn’t a surprise.

“We’ve known for years that the locks has a laundry list of issues,” said Clemans. “We’ve spent the money that Congress asked us to spend to do the things Congress has asked us to do. But that’s only a fraction of what’s needed to return the locks to full operational ability.”