Important issues affecting Benicia to be heard tonight in Berkeley, Richmond

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor’s note: Please understand the significance here, involving the Union Pacific rail line THROUGH BENICIA and across the BENICIA BRIDGE.  Of course, this is also of great importance to our friends uprail in Sacramento, Davis, etc., and across the Carquinez Strait in Martinez, Crockett, and Rodeo and downrail through the East Bay, South Bay and beyond.  To attend tonight’s meetings in Berkeley and Richmond, see details at the end of this article.  – RS] [The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

East Bay and South Bay passenger rail corridor proposed to move crude oil

By Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times, 03/24/2014
A man crosses the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Cutting Blvd. in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

An Amtrak train passes over cars traveling on Macdonald Ave. as it departs the station in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through more than a dozen East Bay and South Bay cities could become a rail superhighway for crude oil transports under a plan by Phillips 66.   (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

BERKELEY — The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through about a dozen heavily populated East Bay and South Bay communities could become a rail superhighway for potentially explosive crude oil transports to Central California under a plan by the Phillips 66 oil company, Berkeley officials warn.

A project at Phillips 66’s Santa Maria refinery would enable it to receive crude oil from North American sources that are served by rail, according to a draft environmental report under review by San Luis Obispo County.

The report identifies the most likely source of the crude as the Bakken oil field that covers parts of North Dakota and Canada. Last July, a train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and nearly destroying the town.

This latest project would add to a growing trend in California to receive imported oil over land via rail rather than by sea. The train cars filled with oil would roll through Sacramento, the East Bay and South Bay on Union Pacific tracks, switching to the UP’s Coast Line and on to Santa Maria, according to Berkeley officials who have analyzed the Santa Maria report.

At its peak, the Santa Maria refinery would receive five trains a week, each just under 4,800 feet long with 80 tank cars, two buffer cars and three locomotives, according to the document.

Bakken crude is light and less viscous than most other varieties of crude, including tar sands. Bakken crude has a lower flash point and is much more flammable.

Phillips 66 did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails Monday. But in a comment in the Santa Maria report, the company wrote that the Santa Maria refinery “is not equipped to process more than nominal volumes of light, sweet crude such as that from the Bakken oil field.”

Ellen Carroll, San Luis Obispo County’s planning manager and environmental coordinator, said in a phone call Monday that “Phillips 66 has indicated to us that they are looking in more detail into where they are actually going to be getting their crude from.”

Carroll said her office is reviewing more than 800 comment letters and that no date has been set for the next hearing.

The prospect of increased shipments of crude has provoked concerns among some residents who live near petroleum refineries, including Chevron in Richmond, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Shell and Tesoro Golden Eagle, both in the Martinez area, and Valero in Benicia.

But the concerns were based on the notion that refineries would eventually receive crude oil by rail for their own operations, something that is already happening to a limited degree at Tesoro, according to industry sources. Now, the idea the Bay Area could be a transit route for crude oil headed elsewhere in California has spurred elected officials to action.

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will discuss a resolution opposing the transport of hazardous crude by rail along the Union Pacific railway through California and the East Bay.

Teagan Clive, a Rodeo environmental activist, praised Berkeley officials for not sitting idly by.

“(The resolution) lays the groundwork for communities to decide for themselves whether they want volatile crude coming through their towns,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, the Richmond City Council will consider a resolution calling on the East Bay Congressional delegation to take steps to halt the movement of crude oil by rail in the nation until it is fully regulated.

“We want to avoid at all costs a tragedy in Richmond in the face of so many tragedies around the country and in Canada from this crude-by-rail type of transport,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in an email Monday.

South Bay officials reached Monday said they had not heard of the plans.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, in an email Monday, said only that “routing for potential crude oil customers will be determined at a future time” and that “currently, we do not move any crude oil through the Bay Area.”

The Santa Maria draft report does not refer specifically to the Capitol Corridor as part of a future transit route for the crude. It refers, however, to the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles and uses the same tracks as the Capitol Corridor trains between Sacramento and San Jose.

The report analyzes some of the possible impacts on Coast Starlight schedules, but only from San Jose south.

“Potential impacts to the Coast Starlight schedule could occur anywhere north of San Jose as well,” the report reads. “However, north of San Jose, through the Bay Area, there are areas of multiple mainline tracks and a large number of commuter trains. Therefore, it is unclear how much the crude oil unit train would overlap with the Coast Starlight. Given this uncertainty, the (report) has limited the analysis to the Coast Line.”

Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio, who is co-sponsoring the draft resolution with Councilman Darryl Moore, characterized the lack of specific mention of the Capital Corridor in the Santa Maria report as “sleight of hand-like.”

“If they want to rule it out, let’s hear it,” Maio said.

Staff writers Robert Rogers and Eric Kurhi contributed to this report. Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at

If you Go
What: Berkeley City Council
Where: City Council chamber, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

What: Richmond City Council
Where: Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday


    DOT-111 tank cars inadequate, but rolling through our cities today

    Repost from PublicSource
    [Editor: two significant excerpts: “While federal officials work on new safety requirements for DOT-111 tank cars, these cars are out there carrying crude oil, rolling through Pennsylvania daily…” AND “The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency recently struck an agreement with CSX railroad to get real-time information on the tracking of hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, in the state.” – RS]

    Rail cars moving crude oil need makeover

    By Natasha Khan | PublicSource | March 25, 2014

    Train Derailment 2006: Flames continue to burn a day after a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Oct. 21, 2006, in New Brighton. Flames continue to burn a day after a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Oct. 21, 2006, in New Brighton, Pa. (Photo by Lucy Schaly / Beaver County Times)

    Walking with his daughter from a Friday night football game in New Brighton, Pa., Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland heard what sounded like a jet overhead and saw an orange glow in the distance.

    Twenty-three rail tank cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge above the Beaver River on that night in 2006, setting off an explosion that burned for 48 hours. Some of the black, torpedo-shaped cars tumbled into the river.

    No one was injured, but 150 people were evacuated and a nearly multi-million dollar cleanup ensued in the city about 30 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh.

    The rail cars in the accident were DOT-111s, designed in the early 1960s and originally used to haul non-hazardous materials such as corn syrup. Now, they are the worker bees for the glut of crude oil and ethanol being transported across Pennsylvania and the country.

    “The same old clunkers are still out there,” said Fred Millar, a Washington, D.C., consultant to the rail industry. “They’re Pepsi cans on wheels.”

    For more than 20 years, safety officials have warned about these cars as accidents involving them have multiplied. One of the worst was in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013, when 47 people died after a runaway train carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota exploded, decimating the town.

    Now, state, federal and industry officials are demanding that regulations be put in place to improve the safety of the cars, which are “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials” when trains derail, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

    After two recent derailments in Pennsylvania — one in Westmoreland County, one in Philadelphia — involving the cars and crude oil, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

    “Steps must be taken to make rail cars safer and to ensure greater transparency in the transportation of hazardous materials,” Casey wrote.


    A sharp increase in North American crude-oil production — mainly because of fracking — has pushed a high percentage of crude oil onto the tracks.

    In 2008, there were 9,500 carloads of crude oil on the tracks in the country. In 2013 that number ballooned to 415,000 carloads, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

    The amount of crude oil spilled last year was more than the total amount spilled  in the 37 previous years, according to an analysis of federal data by McClatchy Newspapers.

    “Most times, people don’t want regulations, [but] in this case, everybody wants them,” said Anthony Hatch, a rail transportation analyst and consultant.

    Rolling through PA

    Pennsylvanians usually associate fracking with natural gas, but much of the crude oil being fracked in the North Dakota Bakken Shale formation goes to refineries in and around Philadelphia, which include Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refiner of Bakken crude.

    Railway officials don’t reveal their routes for hazardous materials for security reasons, and aren’t required to by law. However, a state official said Bakken crude does come through Pittsburgh on the way to Philly.

    And the number of trains carrying crude oil through Pennsylvania are set to spike with the opening of a new crude oil terminal in Eddystone in Delaware County at the end of April. Trains carrying more than 80,000 barrels of North Dakota crude oil are expected to arrive daily.

    Virtually no one in the rail and oil industries anticipated that railroads would be a primary mode of transporting the massive amounts of newly fracked crude oil in North America, said Hatch, the rail industry analyst.

    “Nobody saw it coming,” he said.

    Now, federal regulations need to play “catch up” with this reality, said Deborah A.P. Hersman, former chairwoman of the NTSB, in a statement.

    “The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago,” she said.

    Now the NTSB — which investigates accidents, but doesn’t regulate railroads — and others are insisting that regulations be written covering the DOT-111s and other rail cars.

    “Right now, there is so much uncertainty that people aren’t going to make investments in safer cars and they’re going to keep running these crummy cars and killing people,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing focused on rail safety in February.

    The job of writing the regulations falls to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

    In September, PHMSA put out a notice asking for comments from citizens, environmental and industry groups, and railroad companies on proposed rules to improve the design of the DOT-111 tank car, as well as other safety rules.

    PHMSA officials said they’ve been busy since the comment period ended in December analyzing numerous comments on the rules. But changes aren’t pegged to come until early 2015, according to the agency’s timeline.

    This month, a Senate panel grilled regulators on taking too long to pass regulations improving the tank cars used to haul crude.

    The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was “disappointed and disturbed by some of the delays and failures in rulemaking and scrutiny.”

    PHMSA head Cynthia L. Quarterman told the panel that her agency is working as fast as possible.

    A PHMSA spokesman, Joe Delcambre, told PublicSource in an email that “it was crucial to get input from a wide variety of stakeholders, including shippers and carriers, state and local officials and concerned citizens.”

    The AAR estimates there are 92,000 DOT-111 tank cars used to transport hazardous chemicals and that more than 75,000 of those would need to be retrofitted or possibly to be phased out. These tank cars are not usually owned by railroads but by chemical or oil producers and leasing agencies.

    Inspection blitzes 

    While federal officials work on new safety requirements for DOT-111 tank cars, these cars are out there carrying crude oil, rolling through Pennsylvania daily, said Christina Simeone, director of PennFuture’s energy center, an environmental advocacy group in Pennsylvania.

    Simeone said that during the year or so it may take for federal rules to pass, state and local officials should do inspection blitzes of tank cars and rail lines carrying hazardous materials.

    The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which works with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to inspect rail operations, is now focused on inspecting tracks and rail equipment that carries crude oil shipments, a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

    Railroad officials seem to be willing to communicate information about their shipments to state officials.

    The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency recently struck an agreement with CSX railroad to get real-time information on the tracking of hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, in the state.

    “It will better prepare [state emergency workers] to respond to any incidents that may occur,” said Cory Angell, a spokesman with the agency, who added that his agency is also reaching out to the Norfolk Southern line for a similar agreement.

    And officials at both major PA railroads have said they’ve helped train local emergency responders across the state.

    Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or at


    PublicSource is an investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania. Learn more at


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