Burlington Northern Santa Fe car carrying pork derails in Richmond, raising concerns about more hazardous materialsBy Robert Rogers, December 3, 2014
RICHMOND — The derailment Friday of a single rail car containing refrigerated pork is under investigation by Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials, who say it occurred during a low-speed movement within its rail yard and suggests no added risk for the rail transport of more hazardous materials in Contra Costa County.
“This was a very minor incident with a single car going less than 10 mph,” BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said. “There are many precautions we take to ensure that 99.997 percent of all hazardous materials we transport reach their destinations without a release caused by an accident.”
The car was being pulled by a locomotive through the yard just west of Richmond Parkway near Pennsylvania Avenue when it tipped over.
Kent said people cut through a chain-link fence soon after and took boxes of refrigerated pork that spilled from the crumpled hull. Empty cardboard Tyson Foods boxes were seen scattered in the neighborhood nearby.
Kent said the incident is under investigation, and she declined to say what may have caused it or whether the line on which the derailment occurred is ever used to transport hazardous materials.
The incident and its aftermath — the car remains broken beside the tracks and will soon be scrapped — has only heightened concerns in a community already on edge over the recent influx of crude-by-rail shipments, much of it from the Bakken region of North Dakota.
City officials last month sent a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urging the agency to revoke a permit allowing Kinder Morgan to offload Bakken crude and Canadian tar sands oil at its Richmond rail yard, the major draw for local crude-by-rail traffic.
In September, a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to revoke that permit — which was issued without public notice — was tossed out by a judge on the grounds that it was filed too late.
Kent said BNSF transports two oil-carrying trains per month in California but declined to say exactly where, citing security concerns.
Industry experts expect crude-by-rail traffic to increase in the coming years, as North American oil extraction grows, and the product must be refined in facilities across the United States, including several in Contra Costa County.
Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, said trains of up to 100 cars travel into Richmond before being transferred to trucks or pipelines to be refined. He noted that cars carrying hazardous materials are more robust than the one that carried the spilled pork, and they would be unlikely to spill in a low-speed derailment.
Nonetheless, “A crude car could tip over also,” Sawyer said. “It’s a possibility.”
Kent said Friday’s derailment does not indicate a wider problem.
“We operate all of our trains with safety as our first priority,” Kent said. “However, when it comes to hazardous material we do have more restrictive operating procedures.”
County Supervisor John Gioia said BNSF officials have told him they are developing “more resilient” cars for crude oil, a development he took to mean that the company expects the crude-by-rail market to continue to grow, and that federal regulators are likely to impose new standards as communities across the country see increased crude-by-rail traffic in their midst.
“Any train derailment concerns me because there could be anything from injury to a larger public safety issue; it’s all important,” Gioia said. “But this new (incident) hasn’t told me anything new other than what we know already based on derailments in other parts of the country: that trains with hazardous materials pose a risk.”