Tag Archives: Capitol Corridor

Davis City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

Repost from The Davis Enterprise
[Editor: Breaking news … DAVIS, CA – On Tuesday evening, 9/2/14, the Davis City Council approved the letter as written (but with minor editorial changes) and directed staff to submit it to the City of Benicia for the record.  The DRAFT letter can be seen here.  – RS]

City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

By Elizabeth Case, September 3, 2014

The Davis City Council has released a draft of the letter it plans to send to the city of Benicia in response to the Valero crude-by-rail project’s draft environmental impact report.

The project would build out the Valero refinery’s capacity to unload oil from rail cars, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments, likely from Roseville to Benicia along the Capitol Corridor rail line. That line passes right through downtown Davis.

Draft environmental impact reports are required for projects that could have significant impacts on their surroundings. Notably, this report found the risk of an accident — a derailment and spill — to be an insignificant risk, while the additional trains would have a significant air quality impact.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Chambers at City Hall to vote on the language contained in the letter. The letter, as it stands, argues that the assessment is both misleading and incomplete, and focuses on a few main concerns:

* The report’s failure to address a May emergency order and an August notice from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The former requires railroads transporting more than 35 cars, or 1 million gallons, of North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil in a single shipment to notify state emergency response commissions. The latter includes a report about improving vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

* A request that Benicia mandate the use of the newer 1232 tank cars. These have thicker shells and other improvements over “legacy” — DOT 111 — cars, which have been involved in most of past decade’s oil-by-rail accidents.

However, 1232 cars were involved in at least one derailment in Lynchburg, Va., in April. Benicia cannot legally require Valero or Union Pacific to use a specific type of car, since railroads fall under federal jurisdiction.

Valero spokesperson Chris Howe has previously confirmed that the company would use only the 1232 cars to transport oil.

* A lack of information on where and how Valero might store the crude oil, if it isn’t used right away. Specifically, Davis is concerned that the siding between Interstate 80 and Second Street in Davis could, and might already, be used for the storage of crude oil.

In addition to the above concerns, the Davis City Council requests an investigation into the current conditions of the railroad line from Roseville to Benicia.

The letter also alleges that the EIR fails to account for fire or explosions in its assessment of damage caused by release of hazardous materials, that it fails to take a magnitude of such a spill into account, and that it does not assess all the possible routes for the crude oil to be shipped to the Valero refinery.

The letter also requests that advance notice of shipments be made to city of Davis and Yolo County authorities — information oil companies have been tight-lipped about, citing terrorism concerns.

If Valero is importing Bakken crude at amounts specified in the transportation department’s order, it will have to inform the state commission. Assembly Bill 380, which was approved Friday, would require flow data and other information to be submitted about a company’s top 25 hazardous materials, including oil from the Bakkens, though it would continue to keep the information out of the public realm.

Davis’ comments draw strongly from those already filed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and Yolo County.

Davis City Council member Lucas Frerichs, who also sits on SACOG’s Rail Ad Hoc Committee, said the council understands the need for oil imports, but doesn’t believe the environmental assessment adequately assesses potential dangers.

“It’s going to come in by rail, we just need to make sure it’s done safely,” Frerichs said. “(But the report) absolutely needs to be adjusted in order to protect the safety of citizens up and down the rail corridor.”

The council passed a unanimous resolution in April opposing oil by rail until safety issues, like better warning signs about speed changes, have been addressed.

“Our read of it — even if the risk is only once in every 111 years, if there was a catastrophic explosion, especially in our downtown, it would obviously have a great impact on our community, on lives on our property,” said Mike Webb, the city’s community development and sustainability director and author of the letter.

“Even if that was only once in 111 years, that’s once too much.’

If the Benicia Planning Commission acknowledges the concerns voiced by Davis, it would require a reissue and recirculation of the EIR, delaying the project. Representatives for the commission could not be reached before deadline.

“It would slow the process down, but I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing,” Webb said,” because we’re asking for more information and disclosure about what the project is.”

Interested parties have until Sept. 15 to submit a comment on the EIR before the Benicia Planning Commission begins its review.

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    Napa earthquake shuts down multiple rail services

    Repost from CBS Bay Area KPIX5

    Strong Napa Quake Stops Multiple Rail Services Through Bay Area

    by Brandon Mercer, August 24, 2014
    Amtrak Train at Crossing
    An Amtrak train at a railroad crossing. (CBS)

    SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The 6.0 magnitude quake Sunday morning in Napa County triggered multiple shutdowns of rail services throughout the Bay Area, including the cancellation of ACE train special Levi’s Stadium service and suspension of Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service from Roseville to San Jose while track and bridges are inspected.

    BART trains are running on normal schedules as is Caltrain service on the peninsula. Caltrains cancelled one train because of logistical issues, but services is running, though with delays.

    Amtrak reports on Twitter that Union Pacific is inspecting the track right now.

    ACE posted this statement on its website this morning:

    Due to the earthquake in Napa, Union Pacific Railroad has notified all trains whom utilize their tracks for transportation in the area to not run trains. The ACE train to Levi’s Stadium has been cancelled due to this unforeseen issue. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused, however public safety is of the utmost importance.

    Refunds will be issued to all ticket holders for today’s train to Levi’s Stadium. Ticket holders will receive an email with more details soon

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      Sacramento officials concerned, will meet with Area Council of Governments

      Repost from The Sacramento Bee
      [Editor: Excellent article by Bee reporters Bizjak & Tate.  It’s encouraging that Sacramento is waking up to the threat of catastrophic accidents.  We will want to keep an eye on the April 22 meeting of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.  – RS]

      Refinery plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil through Sacramento

      By Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate, The Sacramento Bee
      Published: Wednesday, Apr.  2, 2014

      A Bay Area refinery’s plan to run up to 100 train cars of highly flammable crude oil daily through Sacramento is prompting a late push by area leaders to protect cities on the rail line.

      Sacramento officials say they only recently learned that a proposed rail terminal at the Valero company’s refinery in Benicia could dramatically increase the number of trains carrying crude oil through the region, including through populated downtowns. They say they are scrambling to fashion a joint statement to Valero officials expressing concerns.

      The trains would travel on the Union Pacific line that runs through both the Roseville and downtown Sacramento railyards, as well as through downtown West Sacramento and Davis. Those are the same tracks that carry Capitol Corridor passenger trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

      The Valero rail terminal is one of several being proposed by refineries responding to a major shift in how crude oil is transported nationally. Currently, the Benicia refinery receives most crude via pipeline and ships. But Valero and other companies are moving quickly toward more rail transport to align with the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in inland areas like North Dakota, where much of the new oil is a lighter, more flammable type from the Bakken oil fields.

      “These rail shipments are the wave of the future,” Sacramento city official Fran Halbakken said, “but there is not much information out there.”

      Data compiled by the California Energy Commission shows crude oil shipments into the state via rail from other states jumped from  1 million barrels in 2012 to more than  6 million in 2013. Local fire officials, who would be the first responders in case of crashes or derailments, say they do not receive detailed information on how many of those train cars come through Sacramento.

      “We’re trying to figure what is the baseline that comes through now,” said Davis city official Mike Webb. “All jurisdictions would want to know.”

      Union Pacific officials say their company, one of the major rail transporters in California, shipped less than 1,000 carloads of crude oil statewide on a monthly basis last year – or 33 cars a day. A UP spokesman declined this week to say how much of that goes through Sacramento. “We are not currently breaking out how much crude we move through a specific community,” UP’s Aaron Hunt said. “We are only giving out our state number.”

      BNSF, the other major rail transporter in California, also declined to discuss crude oil routing information.

      Valero’s terminal project description offers a brief but clear statement on plans for major shipments through Sacramento: “(Union Pacific Railroad)-operated locomotives would haul up to 100 crude oil rail cars a day from the UPRR Roseville railyard to the refinery,” the report states.

      And more rail shipments could be on their way: Phillips 66 says it intends to begin deliveries of crude by rail sometime next year to its coastal refinery in Santa Maria. Union Pacific would deliver as many as five 80-car trains a week of oil “from a variety of sources in North America.” One route could pass through Sacramento.

      Officials with the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response say refineries around the state may ultimately have the capacity to process up to 143 million barrels of crude shipments via rail a year, far more than the  6 million shipped last year.

      Last year, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in a Quebec town, sparking a massive fire that killed 47 people and leveled the town center. Subsequent derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, though not fatal, caused fires and evacuations and showed that disaster could strike again.

      While such incidents are rare, local fire officials say the pressure is on to be more prepared for that possibility.

      “Any time you increase numbers, you increase the probability of problems that would come with that,” said Sacramento City Interim Fire Chief Dan Haverty.

      Last week, The Sacramento Bee reported that McClellan Business Park is being used as a transfer station where oil, including Bakken crude, is being moved from rail cars to tanker trucks. Local safety officials told The Bee they knew little about the McClellan operation.

      Valero and Benicia officials are expected to publish a draft environmental impact report later this month on the company’s planned rail terminal next to Interstate 680 just north of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Sacramento officials say they likely will issue a joint statement to Valero on what they think should be done to increase safety in “up-line” cities.

      The Sacramento Area Council of Governments is planning a meeting of its 32 local cities and counties on April 22 to discuss the issue.

      West Sacramento Fire Chief Rick Martinez said officials may ask that Valero be required to finance extra emergency training and safety equipment for up-line communities, and that there be tight rules on when or whether trains are allowed to sit on track sidings.

      He said the emerging national discussion about rail safety may provide a platform for cities to push for other safety improvements, such as better “real-time” information on what materials are coming through town, so fire and hazardous materials crews know what they are getting into as they head to a call.

      “As they look at this Bakken oil, is there a way through technology to get more information to local agencies?” Martinez said. “We are trying to take advantage of the interest to pose the questions that may guide” future regulations.

      Aides to Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, say she has begun exploring the issue as well. Matsui’s office issued a statement this week, saying “it is imperative that the rail cars are safe and that local agencies are prepared for the increased risk.” Aides said Matsui sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security recently, “seeking additional federal funding for first-responder training, arguing that the increased risk posed by these oil cars warrants additional federal funds.”

      Although the federal government regulates rail shipments, federal rules haven’t caught up to the surge in oil traffic on the nation’s rail network. That’s left local leaders and community activists in cities around the country at the forefront of pushing for changes in state and federal laws.

      Last week, the city councils of Berkeley and Richmond voted to oppose crude shipments on rail lines through their cities. The resolutions call for state lawmakers and members of Congress to seek tougher regulations.

      Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit last week against pipeline operator Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The groups said the agency quietly issued a permit to Kinder Morgan for a crude-by-rail facility in February without reviewing potential environmental and health impacts.

      “We don’t accept that as a foregone conclusion,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups in the lawsuit.

      A group of community activists in Benicia and Martinez has been trying to stop Valero and another refiner, Tesoro, from expanding their crude oil deliveries by rail. And they’re pressing local, state and federal officials to push for tougher oversight of crude oil shipments by rail.

      “People are afraid that anybody along the rail line could become the next (Quebec),” said Andres Soto, a community activist in Benicia.

      Oil industry officials say fears of derailments and fires are overstated. The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, says 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipped by rail reach their destination without incident.

      Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association, dismissed the movement to oppose new terminals and additional rail shipments, saying “you’re always going to see the anti-fossil fuel mentality in California.” He said, given the cost savings, “the vast majority of Californians will be happy to get Bakken crude.”

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        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 Twitter.com/tomlochner.

        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

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