Tag Archives: California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

Rail safety bill sent to CA Governor – requires minimum 2-person crews

Press Release from California State Senator Lois Wolk
[Editor:  Significant quote: “According to the CPUC, of all the industries subject to their oversight — energy, water, telecommunications, and transportation — rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year”  See also coverage in The Reporter, Vacaville, CA.  – RS]

Wolk rail safety bill sent to Governor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 21, 2015, Contact: Melissa Jones, (916) 651-4003 
Bill requires minimum two–person train crews

SACRAMENTO—The State Assembly voted 51-28 yesterday to approve legislation by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to protect communities along rail lines and railroad workers by requiring trains and light engines carrying freight within California to be operated with an adequate crew size. The bill now goes to the Governor.

“Today’s freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gas, and acids that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” said Wolk.

“With more than 5,000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever present danger. I urge the Governor to sign this bill into law, providing greater protection to communities located along rail lines in California, and to railroad workers.”

SB 730 prohibits a freight train or light engine in California from being operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least two individuals.   It also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to assess civil penalties, at its discretion, against anyone who willfully violates this prohibition.

The CPUC supports SB 730, stating that requiring two-person crews is a straightforward way of ensuring two qualified crew members continue to operate freight trains in California.  According to the CPUC, of all the industries subject to their oversight — energy, water, telecommunications, and transportation –rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year.

“Senator Wolk’s legislation helps keep us at the forefront of rail safety,” said Paul King, Deputy Director of the Office of Rail Safety for the CPUC. “Senator Wolk’s bill would ensure that freight trains continue to have the safety redundancy that a second person provides. Such redundancy is a fundamental safety principle that is evidenced in certain industries, such as using two pilots in an airplane cockpit, or requiring back-up cooling systems for nuclear reactors.”

The bill is also supported by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, International Brotherhood of Teamsters; California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO; California Teamsters Public Affairs Council; and United Transportation Union.

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    Firefighter battalion chief: Russian roulette on the railways

    Repost from Chico News & Review
    [Editor:  This article is well-written and documents gutsy analyses by a regional firefighter and County officials who understand that local safety is at the mercy of federal regulators.  Three years of Russian roulette – and more.  A “must read.”  – RS]

    Russian roulette on the railways

    Butte County train tracks are Bakken-free for now, but emergency responders fear a return of the volatile fuel
    By Evan Tuchinsky, 05.21.15
    Cal Fire Battalion Chief Russ Fowler says the Department of Transportation’s new rules regarding traincar safety are insufficient. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAL FIRE

    What is ‘Bakken’?

    The light crude oil known as Bakken comes from fracking a geologic formation of that name under North Dakota, Montana and Canada. Less dense and with less carbon, light crudes yield more gasoline than heavier crudes, but also are more volatile.

    Trains crash. That fact hit home last week when a passenger train derailed in Philadelphia and also last year, on Nov. 26, when a cargo train derailed in the Feather River Canyon.

    The risk of devastation multiplies when the derailed train carries volatile crude oil. A recent spate of those accidents has garnered national attention, too, prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) to release new regulations governing the conveyance of flammable liquids. The measures have drawn near-unanimous opposition, though, and done little to assuage lingering local fears.

    “My constituents have raised concerns and the Board [of Supervisors] is concerned,” said Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk, who represents Chico. “We’re hoping that some of the legislation and some of the discussion that comes forward will make even stiffer requirements on the transport of this Bakken oil.”

    The DoT regulations came out May 1. Five days later, another oil train crashed, in North Dakota. By last Friday (May 15), both the petroleum industry and environmentalists had filed legal challenges to the DoT’s so-called “final rule.”

    The International Association of Fire Fighters also has voiced objections. Representing more than 300,000 firefighters in North America, the IAFF protested a provision that allows railroads to keep the contents of their trains confidential—under the banner of national security.

    Russ Fowler, battalion chief with Cal Fire Butte County and coordinator of the local Interagency Hazardous Materials Team, has additional concerns. DoT regulations phase out tank cars that are not up to the current safety standard, rather than pull them off the rails for retrofitting or retirement. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has argued that the alternative would result in increased oil-tanker traffic on highways.

    Fowler says one particular railcar commonly used to carry volatile Bakken crude oil, the DOT-111, “just [wasn’t] designed for that product.” Since railroads have until 2018 to get those cars up to standard, “we have three years of potential Russian roulette on our hands if light crude oil is transported down the Feather River Canyon like it was done last fall.”

    Cal Fire has communicated with BNSF Railway, Fowler said, and has been told no crude oil deliveries have come through Butte County this year. “I have no reason not to believe them,” he added, though he’s seen DOT-111s riding on Chico tracks.

    Lena Kent, BNSF’s spokeswoman for California, confirmed by email that “we are not currently transporting Bakken crude in your county.” She also wrote: “We do provide information to the Office of Emergency Services in California.”

    That’s in contrast with last year, when train cars carrying millions of gallons of the explosive oil, reportedly around one shipment per week, did make their way way along the Feather River Canyon. Experts tie the reduction of imports to a reduced demand for the fuel, a lighter type that’s similar to gasoline and thus extremely volatile.

    While Cal Fire dreads the prospect of an urban crash, the Feather River Canyon presents a distinct set of frets.

    Train tracks head into remote areas that are difficult for emergency responders to reach. Access roads don’t always run adjacent to the rail route—not even parallel in certain spots. Depending on where a crash occurred, spilled oil could contaminate the Feather River and Lake Oroville—a major source of water for California—or could start a forest fire should it ignite.

    Even without a blaze or river release, “it would make an ugly, oily mess in the canyon,” Fowler said. “It would be a terrible environmental disaster.”

    Butte County supervisors articulated such concerns to the California Public Utility Commission and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, before the DoT released its regulations. OES responded by saying the state is investing in “purchasing new Type II hazardous material emergency response units” and in “local training specific to … rail safety incidents.”

    For Supervisor Doug Teeter, the board chair who represents the Ridge, that’s little assurance. He has a powerless feeling—believing “it’s just a matter of time” before an accident happens locally, yet knowing “as a county we have no control” over the rails.

    “We’re at the mercy of the federal regulators,” he continued. “All we’re really getting is a little response on improved training and equipment. That is not nearly enough to handle a 100-car spill.”

    Either in populated or unpopulated areas.

    “We as a hazmat team plan for worst-case scenarios,” Fowler said. “Just because you plan for a worst-case scenario doesn’t mean you can mitigate the worst-case scenario, because there are things that can happen that are so catastrophic that it would overwhelm local resources until more regional or statewide resources could come in to help.”

    Should legal challenges fail, and in the absence of local authority, a remedy to the DoT regulations remains: Congress. Teeter recently met with a representative of Sen. Barbara Boxer. Meanwhile, North State Congressman John Garamendi has introduced legislation to make light crude safer for rail transport.

    Teeter encourages constituents to write congressional representatives and senators. He finds encouragement even in the controversial DoT regulations, which arose amid an uproar.

    “Maybe now we’ll have a voice,” Teeter said. “Maybe something can happen.”

     

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      Rail Safety bill passes off California Senate Floor with bipartisan support

      Press Release from California Senator Lois Wolk

      Rail Safety bill passes off Senate Floor with bipartisan support

      Bill requires minimum two–person train crews

      5/11/2015 12:21 PM

      SACRAMENTO—Legislation by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to protect communities along rail lines by requiring trains and light engines carrying freight within California to be operated with an adequate crew size for public safety reasons secured passage from the Senate last Thursday on a bipartisan 23-11 vote.

      “Today’s freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gas, and acids that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” said Wolk. “With more than 5,000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever present danger.”

      SB 730 prohibits a freight train or light engine in California from being operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 individuals.   It also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission to assess civil penalties, at its discretion, against anyone who willfully violates this prohibition.

      The California Public Utilities Commission supports SB 730, stating that requiring two-person crews is a straightforward way of ensuring two qualified crew members continue to operate freight trains in California.  According to the Commission, of all the industries subject to their oversight — energy, water, telecommunications, and transportation –rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year.

      “Senator Wolk’s legislation helps keep us at the forefront of rail safety, ” said Paul King, Deputy Director of the Office of Rail Safety for the California Public Utilities Commission. “Senator Wolk’s bill would ensure that freight trains continue to have the safety redundancy that a second person provides. Such redundancy is a fundamental safety principle that is evidenced in certain industries, such as using two pilots in an airplane cockpit, or requiring back-up cooling systems for nuclear reactors.”

      SB 730 will be heard next in the Assembly sometime in June.

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        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.
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