Tests showed rail defect 2 months before W.Va. oil train derailed

Repost from McClatchyDC News

Tests showed rail defect 2 months before W.Va. oil train derailed

By Curtis Tate, October 9, 2015

• Feds identify broken rail as primary cause
• Flaw detected in two prior track inspections
• CSX, contractor will pay $25,000 in fines

Scorched and deformed tank cars await examination by federal investigators at Handley, W.Va., on Feb. 24, 2015. A CSX train carrying crude oil had derailed a week earlier, spilling nearly 400,000 gallons and igniting a fire that kept 100 people from their homes for four days.

Scorched and deformed tank cars await examination by federal investigators at Handley, W.Va., on Feb. 24, 2015. A CSX train carrying crude oil had derailed a week earlier, spilling nearly 400,000 gallons and igniting a fire that kept 100 people from their homes for four days. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

WASHINGTON - Two separate tests in the two months prior to a fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia earlier this year showed the presence of a rail defect, according to a report on the incident.

But neither the railroad nor the contractor who did the tests followed up on the results in December 2014 and January 2015, and the rail broke under a 107-car CSX train loaded with Bakken crude oil. The Feb. 16 derailment near Mount Carbon, W.Va., led to explosions, fires and the evacuation of 1,100 nearby residents.

On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration said it had issued $25,000 civil penalties against both CSX and Sperry Rail Service, the contractor that performed the rail tests.

The railroad agency recommended that both companies enhance employee training and use improved technology. It also asked CSX to establish a plan to identify and correct track defects on routes used to ship crude oil.

Noting that track flaws are a leading cause of derailments, Sarah Feinberg, the agency’s acting administrator, said railroads hauling hazardous materials need to pay closer attention to track conditions.

“All railroads, not just CSX, must be more diligent when inspecting for internal rail flaws or when contracting out inspection work,” she said in a statement.

In a statement, CSX said it would develop additional inspection processes in collaboration with federal regulators.

“CSX intends to pursue these efforts to their maximum potential as part of our commitment to the safety of the communities where we operate, our employees and our customers,” said Kaitlyn Barrett, a spokeswoman.

According to the agency’s report, 24 of the 27 derailed tank cars sustained significant damage that released oil, fueling fires and explosions even in single-digit temperatures. One resident’s home was destroyed by fire, but no one was seriously injured or killed.

The Mount Carbon wreck was among six oil train derailments in North America this year and one of four in the U.S. All revealed vulnerabilities in the kinds of tank cars used to transport oil, as well as shortcomings in the inspection and maintenance of track and rail car wheels.

In April, the Federal Railroad Administration recommended improved wheel inspections. A broken wheel was suspected in the March 6 oil train derailment near Galena, Ill., though the agency has yet to announce an official cause.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced its final rule requiring more crash and fire resistance for tank cars used to transport flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol.

The recent push for improved track and tank cars in North America followed the July 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died. On Friday, a U.S. bankruptcy judge approved a $343 million settlement with the families of the victims.

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Stop the Mass Shootings!

I will take a brief time out from my reporting on crude by rail to once again raise the awful issue of gun control and the almost daily occurrence of mass shootings in the United States.  (Mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period).   See below.
- Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent

Click for more …

IMPORTANT: The Guardian’s report, “994 mass shootings in 1,004 days: this is what America’s gun crisis looks like,” is a shocking visual representation of the almost daily mass shootings in the U.S.

The Guardian article is based on statistics gathered by Mass Shooting Tracker.  The current page on Mass Shooting Tracker shows three more mass shootings on the day after the college campus shooting in Roseburg, Oregon:

  • 10/2/2015 – 1 dead, 4 wounded in Baltimore, MD
  • 10/2/2015 – 3 dead, 1 wounded in Inglis, FL
  • 10/2/2015 – 1 dead, 4 wounded, again in Baltimore, MD

Your news media simply CAN’T KEEP UP with the flood of mass shootings.  So far in 2015, (on October 7, the 280th day of the year) 379 have been killed in mass shootings, and 1094 have been shot and survived.  Who knew, you might ask?  Well, survivors, for sure.  Their lives will never be the same.  Nor will those of families, friends and neighbors of those who are killed or injured in these mass shootings.

LOCAL:  Note this story from last week about the gunshot slaying of a local family: 16-year-old Benicia boy suspect in his family slaying.

For a short time in May 2013, not long after the Sandyhook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Massachusetts, the Benicia Independent’s “single-issue focus” was on gun control.  At that time, I linked to a series of stories showing that the issue extends to our small town of Benicia.  (See archive copy below.)  

Gun Violence is a problem in Benicia

Gun violence is in fact a BENICIA problem … it is time to take action in EVERY city and town. Here are 21 links to Benicia Herald reports of gun violations in Benicia April, 2010 to May 16, 2013.

BREAKING: Armed Liberty High student accused of threatening classmate

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter
Benicia police arrested a 17-year-old Liberty High School student they said made threats Wednesday to kill a classmate, and Thursday brought a gun to campus, Lt. Frank Hartig said. The youth’s identity was not disclosed, but he was accused of felony counts of terrorist threats and possessing a firearm on school grounds, as well as misdemeanor accusations of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number; of being a minor in possession of ammunition; possession of an assault weapon; and being a minor in possession of a concealed firearm, Hartig said.
May 16, 2013

County youth homicide rate on the rise
Solano ranks 6th in California

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Solano County has been ranked sixth among California counties in youth and young adult homicides, said Marty Langley, policy analyst for the the Violence Policy Center, Washington, D.C. San Joaquin County topped the list that is based on 2011 statistics, and several counties reported no homicides among those 10 to 24, the age range that is the focus of the center’s report.
March 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

Police search reveals drugs, ‘suspected Molotov cocktail’
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Benicia police arrested a Benicia man early Monday in the Solano County Square parking lot after a police dog detected drugs in the vicinity of the man’s car. A search turned up drugs, weapons and a suspected incendiary device, Lt. Frank Hartig said Tuesday afternoon.
December 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Man sought in Benicia robbery dies in standoff Police: After chase to Treasure Island, Duncan Phillips shot himself
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A man sought by Benicia police in the Thanksgiving Day armed robbery of one woman and theft of another women’s car died early Tuesday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot after a lengthy standoff on Treasure Island, San Francisco police said. Duncan Phillips, 29, had been the subject of a Benicia police search after he was suspected of attacking and robbing a 52-year-old woman at her apartment on the 900 block of Southampton Road, Lt. Frank Hartig said.
November 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Armed robbery at Fast and Easy Mart
Staff Report

Fast and Easy Mart, 1500 East Fifth Street, was held up Thursday night by armed robbers, police said. The lone clerk described the four assailants as African-American men in the 20s or 30s, wearing dark-colored bandanas over their mouths, police said.
August 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

Held in county lockup, suspect charged with attempted murder of police officer
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

The 22-year-old American Canyon man identified as the suspect who exchanged gunfire with a Benicia police officer Saturday afternoon remained in Solano County Jail, Fairfield, after his arrest Sunday morning in Vallejo, authorities said Monday. Robert Flores Folster was arrested by Benicia police with help from Vallejo police at 1324 Lincoln Road East in Vallejo on Sunday morning, according to Lt. Mike Greene and Solano County Jail records. Folster has been booked on charges of burglary, endangerment of a child that could result in injury or death, attempted murder, carjacking, receiving stolen property and vehicle theft, according to jail records. All are felony charges. While bail of $1,050,000 was set for the first three charges, Folster is being held without bail on the latter three.
July 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A 17-year-old Benicia driver who ran a stop sign late Thursday was arrested on weapons and drug charges and was taken to Solano County Juvenile Hall in Fairfield, Lt. Frank Hartig said Friday. Read the rest of this entry »
July 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

BREAKING: Man robs 7-11 at gunpoint

with 2 comments
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A convenience store clerk was robbed at gunpoint early Tuesday, and the suspect not only demanded money from the register’ but the clerk’s wallet as well, Benicia police Lt. Frank Hartig said.
The robber escaped on foot, and the clerk was not harmed, he said. Read the rest of this entry »
June 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Police say Rio Vista man had 2 concealed guns

with 2 comments
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A Rio Vista man has been jailed after Benicia police accused him of two firearms violations following a traffic stop in a residential area. Read the rest of this entry »
May 25, 2012 at 5:54 am

Gunshots in Benicia lead to charge of endangerment

with one comment
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Benicia Police arrested a 20-year-old Napa man early Wednesday and accused him of endangering a child when he negligently fired a revolver from his car while he on the 1300 block of Southampton Road, Lt. Frank Hartig said. Read the rest of this entry »
May 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm

BREAKING: Armed gunman holds up Benicia business

with 43 comments
Staff Report
Benicia police said an armed robber entered a Southampton business Thursday afternoon and escaped with an undisclosed amount of cash.
No one was injured in the holdup at Check Into Cash, 806 Southampton Road, police said. Read the rest of this entry »

with 5 comments

SOME of the 59 guns police confiscated from a Benicia resident Thursday, including a 9mm UZI.
Courtesy BPD
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A 49-year-old Benicia man has been arrested and a cache of guns, including an illegal 9 mm UZI assault weapon, were confiscated after Benicia police looked into reports Thursday that the man had been harassing a 20-year-old Martinez woman, Lt. Mike Daley said. Read the rest of this entry »
October 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Police arrest parolee on weapons charges
Staff Report

Benicia police on Friday arrested a Magalia, Calif., man after finding a handgun and tools commonly used for car theft in his possession. Police Sgt. John Daley stopped a 1994 Acura on the 900 block of Cambridge Drive at about 6:24 a.m. for an expired registration. After the stop police determined that the passenger, Brad Stancliff, 23, had a felony warrant for his arrest from the California Department of Corrections, according to a Benicia Police Department news release.
April 8, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Police: Man aimed gun at roommate

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A 28-year-old Benicia man who police said pointed a handgun at his roommate’s forehead Tuesday evening was arrested and charged with a felony.
Lt. Mike Daley said the 34-year-old roommate called police and said the man had pointed the gun at him about 6:46 p.m. after they had been arguing. Read the rest of this entry »
March 17, 2011 at 5:31 am

Absent plate leads to weapons, drug arrest
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

The occupants of a Ford Thunderbird missing its rear license plate were arrested Tuesday night and charged with weapons and drug violations, Benicia police Lt. Mike Daley said Wednesday. Benicia K-9 Officer Damiean Sylvester noticed the Thunderbird was missing its plate and stopped the vehicle on East Fifth Street at the eastbound Interstate 780 on-ramp, Daley said. Sylvester spoke with the driver and passenger and discovered each had some prescription medicine but no prescriptions, Daley said. The passenger also had a substance police believe is methamphetamine, he said.
March 10, 2011 at 1:32 am

Lone gunman robs store in Southampton

By Marc Ethier

“Friday the 13th” it was not, but a lone gunman wearing a mask popularized by the horror film series was deadly serious Wednesday when he entered a Southampton Shopping Center store.
The gunman entered GameStop, 821 Southampton Road, at 9:54 p.m. wearing a white hockey mask, according to a Benicia police report. He brandished but did not point a black, semi-automatic-type handgun and demanded cash, then escaped with an undisclosed amount, police said. Read the rest of this entry »
December 30, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Police: Benicia man hospitalized with apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

A Benicia man was taken to an area hospital early Monday after police found him wounded by a gun he may have fired himself.
The man was listed in critical but stable condition at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek later that day, Lt. Bob Oettinger said. Read the rest of this entry »
December 20, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Gunpoint robbery at Homecoming

with 3 comments
“One suspect pulled a black, semiautomatic gun and stuck it into the stomach of one of the victims.” — Benicia police Sgt. Scott Przekurat
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Two 14-year-old Benicia High School students were robbed at gunpoint by four teenagers Friday night after the school’s homecoming game, Benicia police said Monday.
A school administrator appeared shortly after the four robbed the two boys of their wallets, cell phones and a small amount of money, prompting the robbers to scatter, said Sgt. Scott C. Przekurat of the department’s investigations unit.
The victims were walking through the campus after the game and had entered an outside hallway along the school’s A Wing at about 11 p.m. when they were approached by the four robbers, all described as wearing dark sweaters or jackets, dark pants, and flat-billed ball caps, Przekurat said. Read the rest of this entry »
October 18, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Gunshots spur school lockdown

❒ None hurt; police arrest 4 in drive-by
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Robert Semple Elementary School was placed on lockdown about 2:30 p.m. Thursday while authorities searched the area for gunmen who apparently were stalking a Benicia man and his girlfriend.
Vincent Winnie, a 22-year-old Vallejo man, and three others were arrested by Benicia police at the Interstate 780-Interstate 80 interchange, Lt. Mike Daley said. They were still being processed by police at press time.
The incident started before 1 p.m. when police received multiple calls of a possible drive-by shooting at the first block of La Prenda Avenue, Daley said. Read the rest of this entry »
October 1, 2010 at 12:32 am

Herald file photo
❒ None injured in 2 incidents last week
By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Benicia police are asking residents to help them solve two incidents involving gunfire that occurred four days apart, Lt. Mike Daley said Wednesday.
The first report was of shots fired on the 400 block of East L Street about 8:10 p.m. on June 29, Daley said. Read the rest of this entry »
July 7, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Autopsy confirms Benicians’ deaths came by gunshot

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Autopsies performed Wednesday on the two Benicia residents who died in an apparent murder-suicide confirmed that Walter Little, 48, and his girlfriend, Julie Strack, 49, both died of gunshot wounds, Solano County Deputy Sheriff Corey McLean said.
Little, of 69 Vista Grande, died of an intraoral gunshot wound while Strack, of the same address, died of two wounds, one to the head and one to the neck, McLean said. Read the rest of this entry »
April 17, 2010 at 12:11 am

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Public speaks on Valero project

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Public comments on Valero Benicia Refinery’s proposed project

By Irma Widjojo, 09/30/15, 6:14 PM PDT

Don Cuffel, Valero Benicia Refinery’s lead environmental engineer, at the podium, delivers opening remarks at Tuesday’s Benicia Planning Commission meeting. The public comment hearing on the Revised Draft EIR for Valero’s Crude-by-Rail project drew a full-house crowd in the Benicia City Council Chambers. MIKE JORY — TIMES-HERALD

Andrés Soto, spokesperson for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, wears his sentiments on his T-shirt, as he speaks in opposition to a proposed Valero Crude-by-Rail project at a public comment hearing on the project’s Revised Draft EIR at a special Benicia Planning Commission meeting at City Hall. MIKE JORY — TIMES-HERALD

Benicia >> In a special meeting that drew a large crowd Tuesday night, the Benicia Planning Commission received comments from concerned citizens on recently distributed documents on Valero’s proposed Crude-by-Rail project.

Many of those supporting the project wore a sticker on their clothing indicating their approval, while some of those opposing the project wore pins, brought signs and sported a sunflower — a symbol of environmentalism — at the Benicia City Council Chambers at City Hall.

The meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. and lasted until about 10 p.m., was an opportunity for the public to submit verbal comments on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report, or RDEIR, of the project. Those who could not get a seat in the chambers, which has a 120-person capacity, were asked to wait for their turn to speak in an overflow room.

The RDEIR concluded that the project would cause “significant and unavoidable” impacts to air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biological resources and hazards and hazardous materials. However, the report also adds “potential mitigation measures to reduce these new impacts would be preempted by federal law.”

A few speakers who were concerned with the project took issue with the federal preemption mentioned in the report. Federal preemption means federal laws displace state or other local laws.

“It has become a justification for the lack of mitigation,” Benicia resident Roger Straw said. Straw also is the editor of the online publication The Benicia Independent, which disseminates articles and information regarding crude-by-rail and Valero refinery.

Another Benician, Judith Sullivan, said “preemption makes it sound like we don’t have any choices.

“But grassroots efforts like this have been pushing the federal government to enact new environmental laws,” she said.

Representatives from Valero Benicia Refinery and Union Pacific, which would operate the railroad used for the trains hauling crude if the project is approved, also spoke during the meeting.

“This process has forged into a new territory and goes beyond what CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requires,” said Don Cuffel, Valero Benicia Refinery’s lead environmental engineer.

An attorney working with Valero on the application called the process “out of control.”

“We’ve lost sight of the city’s discretion,” said attorney John Flynn. The RDEIR, released Aug. 31, came after an outpouring of feedback from the public on the Draft Environmental Impact Report last year.

Valero Benicia Refinery applied for the permit for the project in early 2013.

If the project is approved, Valero will be allowed to transport crude oil through Benicia via two 50-tanker car trains, rather than shipping the crude oil by boat. It will not replace the crude that is transported by pipeline, officials said.

Concerns voiced on Tuesday about the RDEIR included conflicting information, conclusions based on assumptions and lack of details, among others.

Though the commission reminded the public that the comments should be limited to the redistributed report, instead of about the project in general, not everyone heeded the reminder.

“Valero is a powerful oil company that provides most revenue to this town,” a speaker said. “Are you going to let them get richer on the expense of the health and well being of the residents?”

Many supporting the project said Valero has “gone above and beyond” in the process to ensure the project’s safety, and called Valero a “good neighbor.”

However, that was not good enough of a reason for those in opposition.

“While Valero has been a good neighbor, we can’t be held hostage by what they have given generously to our city,” Anina Hutchinson said.

They also brought up issues about increased greenhouse gas emission, chance of derailment while carrying volatile crude and destruction of the environment in the area of the railroad.

Herbert Forthuber told the Times-Herald he supports the project because Valero is a major financial revenue for the city.

“I’ve seen in the past that when it’s not economically viable anymore for (a refinery) to be in a city, they close down,” Forthuber said, adding that it would be a blow for the local employees and other local businesses that depend on the refinery.

Forthuber is the vice president and general manager of a local business that repairs industrial machineries.

“The RDEIR really hasn’t changed my mind,” he said. “I’m more economically minded, and I care about the impact it would have for people who work for me.”

Valero officials have contended that the railroad addition would make the refinery more competitive by allowing it to process more discounted North American crude oil.

All of those who were present Tuesday were given an opportunity to speak, and the remaining three special meetings for this purpose have been cancelled.

Comments on the report may still be submitted in writing no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.

Written comments should be submitted to amillion@ci.benicia.ca.us or Principal Planner Amy Million at the Community Development Department. For further information about the revised environmental report, contact Million at 707-746-4280.

The report can be reviewed at the Benicia Public Library, 150 E. L St.; the Community Development Department, 250 E. L St.; or online at bit.ly/1lBeeTt.

Following the end of the comment period, a final Environmental Impact Report will be released to the public.

During the meeting, Million said staff estimated Planning Commission hearings will be held in January for the commission to certify the report and whether to grant Valero the use permit for the project.

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Information and events on Crude By Rail and Valero's Benicia Refinery