KCBS 740AM PART III: Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area

Repost from CBS SF Bay Area 740AM (Part 3 of 3)
[Editor: Important coverage of bridge and infrastructure safety issues by Bay Area radio station KCBS 740AM.  See and listen also to Part I, Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil AND Part II, Safety Info For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads.  – RS]

Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area

The Alhambra Trestle in Martinez. (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)

The Alhambra Trestle in Martinez. (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)

KCBS Cover Story Special, Part 3 of 3, Produced by Giancarlo RulliDecember 31, 2014.  KCBS reporter Jeffrey Shaub and producer Giancarlo Rulli investigate the Bay Area’s aging railway bridges that will carry increasing loads of highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota in this three-part KCBS Cover Story Special.

MARTINEZ (KCBS) – In May, U.S. transportation officials ordered the nation’s rail companies to disclose information to emergency responders on the routes and number of trains carrying a highly volatile crude oil through the Bay Area and elsewhere.

But some Bay Area and California officials claim the railroads are dragging their feet, stalling efforts to come with an emergency plan in case of a major disaster on the tracks.

According to the BNSF Railway, every 7-10 days, a 100-car long train carrying Bakken crude oil make sits way through Contra Costa County over the Alhambra trestle in Martinez.

Residents Bill Nichols and Jim Neu are among the many who have serious concerns. “The scary thing about the crude, it already has a proven track record of catastrophic accidents,” said Nichols. “These are ticking time bombs waiting to go off. If there was ever a derailment, it would affect the town with major casualties,” Neu said.

Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Marshal Robert Marshall worries about a train derailing from that height. “If you drop something from that height, it’s going to create a lot of damage.”

Marshall said he’s been working to create an emergency response plan, but needs to know how many trains are coming and when. But he said the state Office of Emergency Services can’t tell him. State OES Deputy Director Kelly Huston said that’s because the railroads haven’t provided him with that information.

“We’d love to be able to look it up online like an Amtrak schedule and be able to tell specifically when a terrain is coming through, where it’s going and give that direct access to local first responders,” Huston said.

KCBS has learned that BNSF sent a confidential letter to the Office of Emergency Services in September, informing them that Contra Costa County will see at least a 25 percent increase in Bakken fuel trains. But BNSF refused to say exactly how many and when, citing federal regulations and that they consider the information to be a confidential trade secret.

Bay Area Congressman John Garamendi disagrees. “It must be made available to the local emergency response agencies,” Garamendi said.

BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent said the company’s track record of moving hazardous materials speaks for itself.

“We handle all of our commodities with safety at the forefront. It’s far safer to move hazardous materials over our nation’s railroads then on our nation’s highways,” she said.

But longtime Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross said the railroad needs to be a better partner by being transparent and ensuring public safety. “Why don’t you get ahead of it, let’s work with government, work with the cities and communities that you’re running through, and solve the problem now.”

Hear the entire three-part cover story series.
Please share!

KCBS 740AM PART II: Safety Info For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads

Repost from CBS SF Bay Area 740AM (Part 2 of 3)
[Editor: Important coverage of bridge and infrastructure safety issues by Bay Area radio station KCBS 740AM.  See and listen also to Part I, Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil AND Part III, Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area.  – RS]

Safety Information For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads

Underneath the Alhambra trestle in Martinez (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)

Underneath the Alhambra trestle in Martinez (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)

A KCBS Cover Story Special: Part 2 of 3, Produced by Giancarlo Rulli, December 30, 2014 – KCBS reporter Jeffrey Shaub and producer Giancarlo Rulli investigate the Bay Area’s aging railway bridges that will carry increasing loads of highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota in this three-part KCBS Cover Story Special.

MARTINEZ (KCBS) — Some local, state and federal officials are concerned that an old railroad bridge in Martinez, used to transport increasing car loads of highly volatile crude oil from North Dakota to East Bay refineries, may be unsafe.

Officials said they can’t obtain safety information about that bridge, and others like it, because the railroad that owns it is allowed to keep that information to themselves.

The Alhambra trestle was originally built in 1899 and later reinforced in 1929. The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway replaced the rail deck in 2003, but the trestle’s support structures are 85 and to 115 years old.

kcbs mic blue Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil, Part 1 Of 3LISTEN: Safety Information For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads, Part 2 of 3 click here, then scroll down to play

Each week it bears the load of hundreds of rail cars including a growing number that carry Bakken crude oil.

(Jeffery Schaub/CBS)

Jim Nue is a member of the Martinez Environmental Group who said he worries about a derailment and how it might affect the several schools and scores of homes nearby.

“We figured the effects within a half-mile blast zone of those tracks affects 12,000 people,” he said.

State and federal authorities are also worried about Alhambra trestle.

“We are concerned about failure,” Paul King, the Deputy Director of Rail Safety for the California Public Utilities Commission, told KCBS.

He’s concerned about shipments of Bakken crude oil over the Alhambra Trestle.

“The consequences of derailment failure are very high,” King said.

But there is no way to know for sure because ever since the Civil War, the railroads have been allowed to keep that information to themselves. While the Federal Railroad Administration does oversee the BNSF, there is only one bridge inspector to cover all eleven Western states.

In the Fall of 2014, The CPUC authorized the hiring of two bridge inspectors to evaluate the more than 5,000 railroad bridges in the state, including the Alhambra trestle. It’s a job that could take 50 years to complete.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) told KCBS that it’s a statewide problem.

“The main bridge across the Sacramento is more than 100 years old. It was built shortly after the Gold Rush,” he said.

BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said the trestle is safe.

“Our bridges are inspected three times a year and, in fact, if they did detect—in any way—that that structure needed to be replaced, they would immediately put plans in place to replace the structure,” she said.

The state says they want the final say on what is safe and what isn’t—and not just leave it up to the railroads.

Back in Martinez, Nue, remains worried about the geography of the Alhambra trestle and his town.

“So if something happens on either end, you’re stuck,” he said.

In Part III, we will reveal how state and emergency response coordinators are concerned about their ability to battle a major railway explosion and fire.
Please share!

KCBS 740AM PART I: Aging Bridges Raise Safety Concerns As Bay Area Receives Dramatic Increase Of Crude By Rail

Repost from CBS SF Bay Area 740AM (Part 1 of 3)
[Editor: Important coverage of bridge and infrastructure safety issues by Bay Area radio station KCBS 740AM.  See and listen also to Part II, Safety Information For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads AND Part III, Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area.  – RS]

Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil

Alhambra Trestle in Martinez, CA (Jeffrey Schaub)

Alhambra Trestle in Martinez, CA (Jeffrey Schaub)

KCBS Cover Story Special, Part 1 of 3, Produced by Giancarlo Rulli, December 29, 2014   – KCBS reporter Jeffrey Shaub and producer Giancarlo Rulli investigate the Bay Area’s aging railway bridges that will carry increasing loads of highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota in this three-part KCBS Cover Story Special.

MARTINEZ (KCBS) — Questions are being raised about the safety of the century-old Alhambra railroad trestle in Martinez. Some local residents and officials are concerned because the bridge is carrying an increasing number of loads of a highly volatile cargo.

kcbs mic blue Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil, Part 1 Of 3LISTEN: Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil, Part 1 of 3 click here, then scroll down to play

As the train rumbles its way across the 115-year-old Alhambra trestle in Martinez, loud creaks and rattles can be heard. And unlike more modern bridges, dozens of its bolts and bridge supports are rusted.

The trestle was originally built in 1899 and reinforced in 1929. The railroad replaced the rail deck in 2003, but the trestle’s support structures are 85 and to 115 years old.

“The railroad told us, actually, that the rust strengthens it,” City Councilman Mark Ross told KCBS, but he isn’t buying it.

He said that residents are worried about its safety, especially because it carries up to mile-long tanker trains loaded with highly volatile—and controversial—Bakken crude oil from shale fields in North Dakota.

“It really begs for inspection and a full report to the community as to its status,” Ross said.

Paul King, the Deputy Director of Rail Safety for the California Public Utilities Commission, agrees.

King said the Bay Area will soon see a dramatic increase in Bakken crude shipments over the Alhambra trestle.

“Somebody needs to be looking, overseeing it, and somebody needs to be doing it for the state of California.

A CPUC report identified railroad bridges as a significant rail safety risk, including many that are over 100 years old—structures like the one in Martinez.

That report and concerns about the Alhambra have the federal government also worried.

“We can’t wait because they will eventually collapse, fall apart—damage will be done,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) said.

He cites the derailment of a Bakken crude oil train in Quebec, Canada, which wiped out half the town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people in July 2013.

Firefighters douse blazes after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac-Megantic in Canada's Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire. A driverless oil tanker train derailed and exploded in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, destroying dozens of buildings, a firefighter back from the scene told (François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)That blaze burned for 36 hours.

“It’s a ticking time bomb—it’s just a matter of time,” Martinez resident Bill Nichols, who lives near the trestle, said.

But Lena Kent, a spokeswoman from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway said that concerns about the Alhambra are perceptions and not reality.

“At BNSF, safety is our first priority in everything that we do,” she said.

In Part II, we’ll look at how the state, federal cannot even obtain safety data about the Alhambra and other bridges carry Bakken fuel because—in part because there are so few inspectors.

 

 

 

Please share!