Request to Martinez City Council: moratorium on crude by rail

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Martinez moratorium resolution, facts to consider

May 11, 2014 | by GUY COOPER,  Special to the Gazette

The Martinez Environmental Group presented a resolution to the City Council May 7, proposing opposition to increased crude-by-rail (CBR) traffic through our city, mirroring similar resolutions and expressions of concern already proffered by Berkeley, Richmond, Davis, Benicia, and many other communities along the tracks. The following is what I wish I would have said in support at that meeting if I hadn’t chickened out.

A major attraction of Martinez is its status as a transportation hub. People commute and travel via Amtrak. There are connections to BART and bus destinations north, south, east and west. The train brings people to our town, sometimes for the first time. They stop, stroll, eat, drink, shop. I’ve talked to many of them. They like what they see, are amazed by the friendliness of the locals. Many are surprised such a town even exists huddled beside those hulking refineries. Basically, they come and go with a good impression that can’t hurt.

Personally, I love being able to jump on the train, catch a Giants game, make a trip to the City or Jack London Square for an event, or head towards Davis, Sacramento, or Truckee for a weekend. Naturally, money is spent on tickets, restaurants, hotels, etc.

If WestPac, Tesoro, Valero, Kinder Morgan, Chevron and Phillips 66 have their way, we could see five to six oil trains a day pass through. Each train consists of about 100 tanker cars. Each car holds about 30,000 gallons of crude. So each train contains about 3 million gallons, is over a mile long, and weighs about 28 million pounds.

A major consideration: How much can our 85-year-old rusty Benicia/Martinez rail trestle tolerate? Has it ever had to endure that kind of traffic before? What’s the frequency of inspections and maintenance of that span? None of this info is easily accessible. The Coast Guard and rail companies have haggled over a bridge refurb for years. How can it be done without contaminating the water, and who’s going to pay for it? Meanwhile, nothing happens. A few years back Channel 4 did a piece on the trestle, noting the heavy rust, separated metal and bent bolts. I guess it was stoutly built way back when, but how long can we expect our elderly bridge to endure an onslaught not seen since WWII? If the rail bridge failed under the load of one of these trains … well, I don’t even want to contemplate that disaster.

These oil trains would use the same tracks used by the California Zephyr, the Capital Corridor commuters, the Coast Starlight.

Farmers, industrial customers, and rail passengers in the heartland of this country are already complaining about train delays and freight delivery impacts due to oil train traffic kludging up the system. What exactly will the local economic impact be if passenger rail schedules are severely disrupted?

Have you noticed the increase in delays lately just trying to get across the tracks to the waterfront as oil trains are built, rolling back and forth, attaching more cars, blocking traffic?

Exactly what economic impact do the local refineries have? Taxes, wages … I’d like to see the details. And please, not the contributions to local causes. For them, that’s just a drop in the PR bucket. What about the health effects of the carcinogens and other toxics spewed into our local environment? We rate amongst the worst in the country in that regard, because of the refineries. What are those costs? The more trains, the more detrimental health impacts. These trains out-gas toxic stuff while unloading or just sitting. Has that been factored into the cost/benefit mix? How about emergency response costs? Not just in responding to a sudden emergency, but in equipping and staffing for the eventuality. Are the oil producers and refiners offering to cover those costs?

Here’s some more math. These so-called “Bakken Bombers” carry a crude that has been likened to gasoline in volatility. One gallon of gas is equivalent to the explosive power of 63 sticks of dynamite. A Bakken Bomber contains about 3 million gallons, or the equivalent of 189,000,000 sticks of dynamite. You know, I’ve been to Hiroshima, Japan. A sobering experience. The power of the bomb that flattened that city was rated at 12 kilotons, or equivalent to 4.8 million sticks of TNT. So one Bakken Bomber train could potentially contain the explosive power of 39 Hiroshimas.

My point is, there is very little benefit to our city hosting this exponential increase in oil train traffic. And much at risk. Any one of these trains could annihilate our town or indelibly poison our water front. It’s just not worth it.

I believe the City of Martinez should be acutely concerned about this issue and wish to join our neighboring municipalities in conveying that concern to the powers at the state and federal levels that can do something about it. So I ask that the City Council call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail until all safety and health concerns are remedied. Vote to pass our resolution.