Federal Railroad Administration 281-page FOIA response on FECR LNG by Rail request 2024-06-07

Update 2024-07-01: LNG by Rail on FECR through Martin County, according to FRA –Cecile Scofield to Martin County, FL BOCC 2024-06-18.

For years we’ve been trying to FOIA information from FRA about FECR’s project to ship liquid natural gas (LNG) by rail through densely-populated areas. After four months, two FOIAs, and further correspondence, we finally got quite a bit.

It confirms in detail much of what Cecile Scofield has been saying for years. LNG liquefaction plants and the railroad are owned by the same company, and there are safety concerns about their plan to ship LNG by rail up and down Florida to export to the world and by land across the U.S.

Yet many important safety details were redacted.

[Fortress Investment Group (FIG) affiliates exporting LNG to the world: Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) and New Fortress Energy (NFE)]
Fortress Investment Group (FIG) affiliates exporting LNG to the world: Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) and New Fortress Energy (NFE)

FECR’s plan is to ship LNG up and down Florida, out through ports from Miami to Jacksonville, and to ship it all over the U.S.

[Map: FECR between Florida and the World]
Map: FECR between Florida and the World
PDF

Yes, the owner of the liquid natural gas (LNG) liquefaction plants (NFE) and the railroad that transports the LNG (FECR) are both owned indirectly by the same investment company (FIG).

[Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) and New Fortress Energy (NFE) are affiliate companies owned by funds managed by Fortress Investment Group (FIG).]
Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) and New Fortress Energy (NFE) are affiliate companies owned by funds managed by Fortress Investment Group (FIG).
PDF

And they are banded together as Fortress Energy Partners (FEP).

“FEP will own and operate a network of small scale liquefaction production facilities across the US”

“FEP affiliate will distribute LNG from FEP’s network of production plants and provide customers all necessary logistical support to deliver LNG to its final destination, typically by [redacted]”

The logos at the bottom of this page are not just FECR, but also All Aboard Florida, RailAmerica, and others.

[Fortress Energy Partners (“FEP”) was established in 2014 to build a small scale LNG production and distribution platform]
Fortress Energy Partners (“FEP”) was established in 2014 to build a small scale LNG production and distribution platform
PDF

Among the information FRA redacted is the specifications for the LNG tanks to go on the railcars, and their piping and safety features.

“Portions of the enclosed documents such as financial information, price, and technical proposals have been redacted pursuant to exemption 4, 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(4), which protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential”. FRA has determined this information is commercial or financial.”

Nevermind if you might want independent third party review to see if those things were safe.

[Page 46]
Page 46
PDF

Back in April the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) claimed they couldn’t find even their own letter that we cited in our January FOIA request.

Yet on June 7, in response to a more general WWALS FOIA, FRA returned 279 pages of correspondence and documents about and after their April 2016 “inaugural meeting with Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) to get bi-weekly updates on their LNG Tender pilot project.”

Thanks to Cecile Scofield for never letting go of this issue.

Of the 278 pages of material, 155 pages are a document Cecile Scofield previously obtained by an earlier FOIA and that WWALS published back in 2020: FECR Movement of LNG ISO Containers by Rail, Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) Considering LNG Position in Train and Train Speed. We cited that QRA in our January 13, 2020, request for PHMSA to reject its own proposed rule for LNG in rail tanker cars, as did Cecile in her own comment. We like to think these comments contributed to PHMA and FRA suspending that rule in August 2023.

The correspondence leading up to the FRA FOIA response is summarized and mostly quoted below.

The documents are on the WWALS website.

For more background, see LNG Export by truck, rail, and ship:
https://wwals.net/issues/lng

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!
https://wwals.net/donations/

WWALS FOIA 2024-01-31

Dear FRA,

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for copies of any letters, memorandums, or notes from the September 3, 2014, meeting between the Federal Railroad Administration and Florida East Coast Railway, along with a copy of FEC’s “most recent letter” referred to in a March 3, 2016, letter from Karl Alexy, Staff Director, Hazardous Materials Division, Federal Railroad Administration, to James R. Heftwig, President and CEO, Florida East Coast Railway.

Please see attached for the March 3, 2016, letter.

This is a relevant passage from it:

“As FEC points out in its most recent letter, FEC originally discussed its interest in moving LNG with FRA on September 3, 2014.”

My contact information is below.

A copy of the referenced letter is on the WWALS website.

FRA offered to charge us more than $25 for returning documents. WWALS pointed out that according to the rules they cited WWALS as a nonprofit should not have to pay anything, “Instead, the WWALS FOIA request should be categorized as: 49 C.F.R. § 7.42(g)(2) Requests submitted by an educational or noncommercial scientific institution whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research (and not for a commercial use);”

We nonetheless offered to pay up to $200.

FRA agreed that we should not have to pay: “Noted. We will update your category.”

This was all on the same day, January 31, 2024.

FRA FOIA response 2024-04-19

See also PDF.

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

US.Department
of Transportation

Federal Railroad
Administration

April 19, 2024

John Quarterman
wwalswatershed@gmail.com

> Re: FRA File No: FFRA-24-00136

Dear John Quarterman:

This letter is in response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for copies of any letters, memorandums, or notes from the September 3, 2014, meeting between the Federal Railroad Administration and Florida East Coast Railway, along with a copy of FEC’s “most recent letter” referred to in a March 3, 2016, letter from Karl Alexy, Staff Director, Hazardous Materials Division, Federal Railroad Administration, to James R. Heftwig, President and CEO, Florida East Coast Railway.

After conducting a thorough search, we have determined that the agency’s files do not contain any records responsive to your request. In making this determination, we have searched the FRA Office of Railroad Safety. No records matching the information you provided were identified.

Pursuant to the provisions of 49 C.F.R. Part 7, there is no charge for this response.

You may appeal this decision to the Administrator; Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20590. According to the FOIA statute, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(6)(A)(@)(11D(aa), your appeal must be submitted in writing within ninety (90) days of your receipt of this letter. Per the Department’s FOIA regulations, 49 C.F.R. Part 7 the appeal must indicate that it is an appeal under FOIA, it must include all arguments and information upon which you rely, and the envelope in which the appeal is sent must be prominently marked, “FOIA Appeal.”

[missing word] you have any questions regarding your FOIA request, you may contact FRA’s FOIA Office at: FRAFOIA@dot.gov. You may also contact FRA’s FOIA Public Liaison, Mr. William Wong, at FRAFOIALiaison@dot.gov for any further assistance and to discuss any aspect of your request.

Additionally, you may contact the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives and Records Administration to inquire about the FOIA mediation services they offer. The contact information for OGIS is below:

Office of Government Information Services
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road-OGIS
College Park, Maryland 20740-6001
Email – ogis@nara.gov
Telephone – 202-741-5770 or 1-877-684-6448
Fax – 202-741-5769

Since FRA has no records in its possession that are responsive to your request, I am closing your file in this office.

Sincerely,
[signed]
Syreeta Jackson
Government Information Specialist

WWALS FOIA 2024-05-09

Dear FRA,

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for
“Florida East Coast Railway’s (FEC) request under Title 49 Code ok Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 174.63 for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approval to transport liquefied natural gas (methane, refrigerated liquid (UN 1972), or LNG) b rail, in intermodal (1M) portable tanks in container-on-flatcar or trailer-on-flatcar service, from origination and destination points on the FEC network.”

I also request copies of any letters, memorandums, or notes in response to or related to that FEC request, both from FRA and from FEC as well as third parties, including FEC’s “various documents it submitted to FRA in 2015 and 2016.”

Please include any docket number or file number associated with that FEC request or the other materials. If any of these materials are available online, please include links to where.

The quotations above are from the attached March 3, 2016, letter from Karl Alexy, Staff Director, Hazardous Materials Division, FRA.

This request is by John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper, on behalf of our parent organization, WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc. (WWALS). My contact information is below.

WWALS is an IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, Employer Identification Number 46-2656118.
Thus this WWALS FOIA request should be categorized as:
“49 C.F.R. § 7.42(g)(2) Requests submitted by an educational or noncommercial scientific institution whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research (and not for a commercial use);”

See: “§ 7.42 (i) When records are requested by an educational or noncommercial scientific institution whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research or by a representative of the news media (i.e., for a non-commercial use), fees are limited to reasonable standard charges for document duplication.” https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-49/subtitle-A/part-7/subpart-E/section-7.42

Although to forward a few emails and related documents should not cost much, WWALS is prepared to pay up to $200 (two hundred dollars) without further discussion. If more is required, please estimate how much and for what.

For the rivers and the aquifer,

John S. Quarterman,
Suwannee RIVERKEEPER® and Executive Director
WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.
[etc.]

I attached the same March 3, 2016 letter as for the previous FOIA.

FRA FOIA Acknowledgement 2024-05-09

This was pretty funny: “To reduce FRA’s response time, consider refining your request by narrowing the scope.”

We already tried that in our previous FOIA, and got nothing.

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

US.Department
of Transportation

Federal Railroad
Administration

May 9, 2024

John S. Quarterman
wwalswatershed@gmail.com

Re: FFRA-24-00257

Dear John Quarterman:

This letter acknowledges receipt by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dated May 9, 2024, and received on the same date, in which you requested, “approval to transport liquefied natural gas (methane, refrigerated liquid (UN 1972), or LNG) b rail, in intermodal (1M) portable tanks in container-on-flatcar or trailer-on- flatcar service, from origination and destination points on the FEC network; and copies of any letters, memorandums, or notes in response to or related to that FEC request, both from FRA and from FEC as well as third parties, including FEC’s “various documents it submitted to FRA in 2015 and 2016.”

FRA assigned your request the FOIA file number indicated above. Please include this number on all correspondence with this office.

Because of the need to search and collect the requested records from several program offices or field offices, “unusual circumstances” applies and FRA is extending the time limit to respond to your request by 10 workdays. See 49 C.F.R. § 7.34(a)(1). FRA has placed your request in the complex processing track. See 49 C.F.R. § 7.31(b). Please note that FRA is experiencing a high number of FOIA requests and is addressing requests on a first-in, first-out basis. Your request will be addressed in the order it was received. FRA regrets any inconvenience caused by the delay.

To reduce FRA’s response time, consider refining your request by narrowing the scope. This could involve narrowing the record types or date ranges covered in the request, which would reduce the volume of potentially responsive documents. Please contact the FRA FOIA Office at FRAFOIA @dot.gov or the FOIA Public Liaison, William Wong, at FRAFOIALiaison@dot.gov if you wish to discuss options that would allow FRA to respond to your request more quickly.

FRA has placed you in the “Educational or Noncommercial Scientific Institution” fee category. 49 C.F.R. §§ 7.42(g)(2), (i). In this fee category, you do not pay fees for search or review time. Id. If you are interested in railroad accident data or reports, including railroad supplied accident reports for specific accidents, you can access these materials through the FRA website at:
https://safetydata/fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety

If you have any questions or wish to discuss any aspect of your request, please feel free to contact the FRA FOIA Office at FRAFOIA@dot.gov. You may also contact FRA’s FOIA Public Liaison, William Wong, at FRAFOIALiaison@dot.gov for any further assistance..

Sincerely,

Digitally signed by YOLANDA BATULAN BROWN
Date: 2024.05.09 09:54:04

Yolanda Brown
The FOIA Office
Office of Chief Counsel

Cecile Scofield nudged FRA 2024-05-10

Good morning,

Could you please take a moment to let me know what kind of filing system FRA uses to store documents.

Problem: When a FOIA request asks for copies of documents, notes from meetings, etc., that were referenced in a letter from FRA to a railroad operator concerning hauling a specific HazMat, I would imagine that FRA would have an actual file that contains all of the documents, etc., pertaining to that HazMat issue.

Why is it so difficult to obtain copies of the referenced documents through a FOIA request? Where is the file?

Please advise.

It took FRA ten days to respond.

On 05/21/2024 11:23 AM EDT FRAFOIALiaison <frafoialiaison@dot.gov> wrote:

Good Morning,

Apologies for the belated response to your inquiry. To answer your question, would you be able to let me know whether you are looking into a specific FOIA request, and if so, provide the FOIA number for your case? This information would help us provide you with an answer, since where, how, and for how long FRA files and retains records depends on the specific record in question.

Thank you,

William Wong
Office of Public Affairs
Federal Railroad Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
(202) 329-4918

Cecile answered the next day,

May 22, 2024, 12:19:56 PM

to FRAFOIALiaison

The FOIA request was filed by WWALS Watershed. The Acknowledgment Letter shows FFRA-24-00257. FRA should have a file for this matter, especially since specific meetings and documents were referenced in FRA’s March 3, 2016, letter to FEC (copy attached). Somebody must have had the documents in hand when FRA drafted the March 3rd letter. We are looking for the file. Where is it?

Thank you for your help.

Cecile

FRA FOIA response 2024-06-07

After Cecile’s clarification that they should be looking for the files, it took FRA little more than a week to find them, with “minimal cost incurred”. More than four months after our first FOIA.

1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

US.Department
of Transportation

Federal Railroad
Administration

June 7, 2024

John Quarterman
wwalswatershed@gmail.com

Re: FRA FOIA File No. FFRA-24-00257

Dear John Quarterman:

This letter is in response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for “Florida East Coast Railway’s (FEC) request under Title 49 Code ok Federal Regulations (CFR) section 174.63 for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approval to transport liquefied natural gas (methane, refrigerated liquid (UN 1972), or LNG) b rail, in intermodal (1M) portable tanks in container-on-flatcar or trailer-on-flatcar Service, from origination and destination points on the FEC network, copies of any letters, memorandums, or notes in response to or related to that FEC request, both from FRA and from FEC as well as third parties, including FEC’s “various documents it submitted to FRA in 2015 and 2016, in addition to any docket number or file number associated with that FEC request or the other materials.

In accordance with the FOIA, please find records responsive to your request attached.

It is FRA’s policy to exempt material pursuant to FOIA Exemption (b)(2). Exemption 2 exempts from mandatory disclosure records that are “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.” This includes information solely internal to an agency that has little interest to the public. Pursuant to Exemption 2, FRA redacted internal intranet website URLs from these documents.

Portions of the enclosed documents such as financial information, price, and technical proposals have been redacted pursuant to exemption 4, 5 U.S.C. 552 (b)(4), which protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential”. FRA has determined this information is commercial or financial.

It is also FRA’s policy to withhold the names and related personal information of individuals from the enclosed materials because such information constitutes sensitive, personal, and private- information. Therefore, pursuant to FOIA, the individuals’ name and related personal information portions of these materials have been exempted from disclosure by exemption 6, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6), which exempts personnel and medical and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

No fee has been assessed for the documents considering the minimal cost incurred in providing you with these documents.

You may appeal this decision to the Administrator; Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20590. According to the FOIA statute, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(6)(A)()CID (aa), your appeal must be submitted in writing within ninety (90) days of your receipt of this letter. Per the Department’s FOIA regulations, 49 C.F.R. Part 7 the appeal must indicate that it is an appeal under FOIA, it must include all arguments and information upon which you rely, and the envelope in which the appeal is sent must be prominently marked, “FOIA Appeal.”

Additionally, you may contact the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives and Records Administration to inquire about the FOIA mediation services they offer. The contact information for OGIS is below:

Office of Government Information Services
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road-OGIS
College Park, Maryland 20740-6001
Email – ogis@nara.gov
Telephone – 202-741-5770 or 1-877-684-6448
Fax – 202-741-5769

If you have any questions regarding your FOIA request, you may contact FRA’s FOIA Office at: FRAFOIA@dot.gov. You may also contact FRA’s FOIA Public Liaison, Mr. William Wong, at FRAFOIA Liaison@dot.gov for any further assistance and to discuss any aspect of your request.

Since FRA has no additional information responsive to your request, I am closing your file in this office.

Sincerely,
[signed]
Syreeta JacKson
Government Information Specialist
Attachment(s)

The attachment was a PDF of 279 pages.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!
https://wwals.net/donations/

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