Guy Cooper: I hope you like trains a lot…

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Do you like trains a lot?

By Guy Cooper, September 14, 2014

Hope you like trains a lot.  (Kudos to the Fugs, 1965!)

I just did a presentation as part of the Martinez Environmental Group Community Forum held here in town Sept. 8. My focus was on some trends and projections for crude-by-rail (CBR) nationally, statewide and locally. Then it hit me that there were aspects and implications I had not fully appreciated.

Of course, the safety record doesn’t look good. A 2013 spike in CBR traffic nationally led to consequent spikes in accidents and spills.

trainsalot

In fact, more CBR was spilled in this country in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined. The sheer volume shipped can mask what is actually happening. A projected 7.7 billion gallons of crude is expected to roll into our state annually by 2016. That makes a mockery of the rail industry’s oft touted 99.99 percent safety record, a record based on volume shipped.

Shipping that much volume into the state allows for the spilling or otherwise loss of over 766,000 gallons a year without even breaking a statistical sweat. You bring it, the accidents will come. The rail companies are actually having accidents about once a week now. Two locomotives derailed in Benicia Monday. Third derailment there in the last 10 months. Hey, stuff happens.

I did my walk in the Marina Park this morning. Saw two freight trains go by, one from the north, one from the south. The one from the south had five or six locomotives pulling about a hundred hopper cars. From my vantage, I couldn’t tell if they were loaded. The train easily spanned the entire Carquinez trestle. We’ve seen the same thing lately with 100-car trains of ethanol heading through downtown.

It struck me. Just how many trains do go through downtown Martinez on a given day, or at least take up room on the Union Pacific (UP) and BNSF rail corridors that bracket Martinez? The Amtrak guys at the station told me they have 42 trains a day.

Forty-two! That’s almost one every 30 minutes. All but two of those travel the UP rails to Sacramento through Benicia, Suisun and Davis via the Union Pacific tracks that will also carry most of the crude oil trains into the Bay Area. Add in the freight trains. Amtrak couldn’t tell me anything about them, said they’re unpredictable. Well, I saw two within the space of an hour.

Add in the projected oil train traffic. We do know that one unit train (100- cars) of Bakken crude travels the BNSF line from the east along the Highway 4 corridor, over the Muir trestle into Franklin Canyon every seven to 10 days. I don’t know what other trains use that route. If all of the regional refinery proposals are allowed, we could also see a unit train a day travel through downtown on its way to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria near San Luis Obispo. WesPac in Pittsburg wants a unit train a day. Valero in Benicia wants 100 cars per day. Add ‘em up and you’re looking at 20 trains, 2,000 cars, 60 million gallons a week impacting our region, kludging up the rails, slowing other freight and passenger traffic, not to mention complicating the mix with highly volatile and toxic cargoes.

Each unit train is over a mile long, weighs over 28 million pounds and carries about 3 million gallons of oil. Remember, for each one coming in, there has to be one going out. I think that’s one of Newton’s laws of motion, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, so double the number of unit trains: 40 a week by 2016.

Add in 294 AMTRAK trains per week, and a conservative estimate of 28 other freight trains a week (4/day). Total: 362 trains per week, each blowing its whistle three of four times at each crossing. Every 30 minutes.

So I hope you like trains a lot.

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