Tag Archives: East Bay

Light rail doing fine; not so for bigger trains

Repost from the Redding Record Searchlight
[Editor:  Mr. Elias mentions the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo oil train proposal but fails to takes note of the Valero Crude By Rail proposal in Benicia.  His argument is magnified by the potential addition of two 50-car oil trains traversing the rails every day in Northern California on their way to and from Benicia.  – RS]

Light rail doing fine but high speed train plan may derail

By Opinion Columnist Thomas Elias, March 21, 6:00 pm

A little more than one month from now, the Metro Expo Line’s final portion will open for business, making it possible to take trains from the far eastern portions of Los Angeles County to the often-crowded beach in Santa Monica. This will come barely two months after a new section of Metro’s Gold Line opened, allowing a simple, cheap 31-mile jaunt from downtown Los Angeles to Azusa.

Meanwhile, in Sonoma and Marin counties, test trains are running on another light rail line, between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, with high hopes of relieving some of the heavy traffic on parallel route U.S. 101.

Barely any protests have afflicted any of these projects, which together will have cost many billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, protests are vocal and persistent wherever the state’s High Speed Rail Authority plans to build bullet train tracks, bridges or stations, even where it plans to share rights-of-way with other trains, as on its planned course on the San Francisco Peninsula.

There’s also massive resistance to a plan for running up to five freight trains weekly through the East Bay area and Monterey County to a Phillips 66 oil refinery in Santa Maria, which supplies much of the Central Coast.

These trains would bring crude oil to the refinery, something Houston-based ConocoPhillips insists is needed because of declines in production of California crude oil. Oil trains would run from the Carquinez Strait near Benicia through much of the East Bay, raising fears of derailments and hazardous waste problems in populous areas. So far this year, there have been at least three derailments of oil trains in other parts of the nation, with hundreds of temporary evacuations resulting. Another train derailed only last month in the East Bay.

Loud as those protests are, they lack the potency of the opposition to the plans of the High Speed Rail Authority, headed by former Pacific Gas & Electric executive Dan Richard, who also spent years as an aide to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The most prominent current anti-HSR push is a proposed November ballot initiative sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bob Huff of San Dimas and state Board of Equalization member George Runner, which seeks to switch almost $10 billion in remaining, unsold, bonds from the bullet train to water projects, including new reservoirs and desalination plants.

That initiative, which appears likely to make the ballot, is in large part the result of the High Speed Rail Authority’s insistence on a route that makes no sense — meandering north from Los Angeles through the Antelope Valley, then west through the Mojave Desert to Bakersfield before turning north again for a run past and through farms and towns in the Central Valley. When it’s done with all that, the bullet train’s projected path would turn west again over the Pacheco Pass to Gilroy and then veer north to San Jose before heading up the Peninsula along existing CalTrain routes to San Francisco.

It’s a convoluted route that — if built out — will add at least half an hour of travel time to a much simpler route that was available: Heading almost straight north from the Bakersfield area along the existing Interstate 5 right-of-way, where plenty of median land is available for most of the run. Rather than cutting over the Pacheco Pass, it would be far simpler to continue a little farther north to the windswept Altamont Pass, where a turn west could quickly lead to a link with the Bay Area Rapid Transit System and special BART express trains to San Francisco.

That route would cost untold billions of dollars less and be far more direct and faster. But the illogical High Speed Rail Authority opted for the least sensible, most costly route, inviting the lawsuits and public outcries that have now set its timetable back by at least three years. The Huff-Runner measure might just make it extinct.

The difference between the fates of the light rail projects and this ultra-heavy rail couldn’t be clearer: Because the light rail systems heeded where potential passengers want to go and chose direct, non-controversial routes, they are being completed on time, or close.

Meanwhile, the bullet train and the old train plans might just pay the price for making little or no sense and/or wasting money: Extinction.

 

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    BENICIA HERALD LETTER: Allowing crude by rail is asking for trouble, Kathy Kerridge

    Repost from the Benicia Herald
    [Editor:  No link is provided for this letter because the Benicia Herald does not publish letters in its online edition.  A version of this letter also appeared in the Contra Costa Times.  – RS]

    Allowing crude by rail is asking for trouble

    By Kathy Kerridge, August 16, 2015, Benicia Herald

    It’s time for Benicia and California to say no to bringing in crude oil by rail (CBR). This is the highly explosive and flammable Bakken crude from North Dakota, which exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47.  This is what Valero wants to bring into Benicia and other refineries want to bring into the Bay Area.  There have been 30 major crude by rail accidents since 2012, including the latest on July 17 in Montana that spilled 35,000 gallons from a train that was going the legal speed limit.

    The refineries also want to bring in tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada.  A spill of tar sands crude in water cannot be cleaned up.  The substances that dilute the tar sands (like benzene) so it can be transported evaporate and the tar sands sink to the bottom of the water.  $1 billion, yes that’s right billion, has been spent on the Kalamazoo River spill of tar sands and the river is still not clean.  Do we want a spill on the Benicia Rail Bridge into the Carquinez Strait or one in the Suisun Marsh?  How about the Feather River Canyon where a train carrying corn recently derailed sending its cargo into the river?

    Say no to CRB going over high hazard areas.  Every rail line into the state goes through one.  Say no to CBR by earthquake faults.   Say no to trains carrying crude in cars designed to carry corn syrup.  Say no to the new cars which have also split and spilled in recent derailments.  Say no to bomb trains going through densely populated areas like Sacramento, Davis, and the East Bay.  Just say no to putting people, our water sources and our environment at risk

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      San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery’s crude-by-rail project

      Repost from The San Jose Mercury News

      San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery’s crude-by-rail project

      By Tom Lochner, Oakland Tribune, 11/26/2014

      BERKELEY — As the deadline arrived for comments to an environmental report on a Central California crude-by-rail project, a San Jose City councilman got the early jump, announcing his opposition in a news release Monday afternoon.

      The Phillips 66 Company Rail Spur Extension Project would bring as many as 250 unit trains a year with 80 tank cars plus locomotives and supporting cars to a new crude oil unloading facility in Santa Maria from the north or from the south along tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.

      Likely itineraries for the crude oil supplies coming from out-of-state include the Union Pacific Railroad tracks along the eastern shore of San Pablo and San Francisco bays that also carry Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight trains.

      “This will allow mile-long oil trains carrying millions of gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil in unsafe tank cars to travel through California every day,” reads a news release from San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra. “These trains will travel through the Bay Area passing neighborhoods in San Jose, including Kalra’s District 2 in south San Jose. This proposed plan threatens the residents and families along the rail routes and also threatens the environment and local water supplies.”

      Kalra continues by urging San Luis Obispo County to reject the project, saying, “The safety of our community members, our health, and our environment, should not be taken lightly.”

      In March, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted unanimously to oppose the transport of crude oil by rail through the East Bay.

      As of early Tuesday, Berkeley had not communicated to this newspaper its comments to the environmental report. San Luis Obispo County as of early Tuesday had not published what is expected to be a voluminous body of comments from public agencies, advocacy groups and individuals.

      On Tuesday, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said, “Having 60-car trains going through our town, as many as two a day, is an area of concern for anyone in the Bay Area because of the vulnerability of the rail cars and the problems that would ensue if one of them would explode.”

      The Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery currently receives its crude oil supply via underground pipeline from locations throughout California, but with the decline in crude oil production in the state, it is looking to alternative supplies that would be delivered most practically by rail, according to the refinery website.

      “The refinery currently uses trains to transport products, and refinery personnel have decades of experience in safely handling railcars,” the Santa Maria Refinery Rail Project page reads in part. “The proposed change will help the refinery, and the approximately 200 permanent jobs it provides, remain viable under increasingly challenging business conditions.

      “Everything at Phillips 66 is done with safety as the highest priority.”

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        Sacramento Area leaders call for strong safety controls on oil trains headed west and south

        Repost from The Sacramento Bee

        Sacramento leaders call for more crude-oil train safety

        By Tony Bizjak, 11/14/2014
        A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park in March.
        A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park in March. Randall Benton

        Concerned about potential oil spills and fires, Sacramento leaders are calling for stronger safety controls on a Phillips 66 proposal to transport crude oil via trains through Sacramento neighborhoods to the oil company’s refinery in San Luis Obispo County.

        In a letter approved Thursday by board members of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, regional officials are asking San Luis Obispo County to require the oil company to notify local fire officials before any crude oil train comes through the area, limit the parking of crude-oil-laden trains in the urban area, provide funding for training on fighting oil fires, and require trains and tracks to have modern safety features.

        SACOG officials said they are not taking a stance against rail shipments of crude oil in general.

        “Our intent is not to prohibit any types of shipments, our intent is to ensure that where they are shipped that we impose the most reasonably feasible safety measures for our communities,” the agency’s attorney Kirk Trost said during a board briefing this week.

        A boom in domestic oil production in North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and other Western states in recent years has prompted safety concerns after several high-profile oil-train explosions, including one in Canada that killed 47 people last year. The federal government is formulating new safety regulations, including a requirement for sturdier tank cars.

        SACOG’s letter comes in response to a Phillips 66 proposal to ship oil via train five days a week to its Santa Maria Refinery in San Luis Obispo County. Many of those trains are likely to come through Northern California, via Roseville, and run through downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, downtown Davis and East Bay cities. Some could take a route through Sacramento to Stockton, then west into the Bay Area. The route east of Roseville is unknown.

        The Sacramento group, in its letter, also joined a growing national chorus of cities and states demanding that particularly flammable crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota be stripped of its more volatile elements before being loaded on trains.

        In an email to The Sacramento Bee, Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said Phillips does not plan to ship Bakken oil to its Santa Maria Refinery. He did not specify which types of crude oil the refinery will receive.

        “Phillips 66 is working to ensure the long-term viability of the Santa Maria Refinery and the many jobs it provides,” he wrote. “Our plans for this project reflect our company’s commitment to operational excellence and safety while enhancing the competitiveness of the facility.”

        SACOG, a transportation planning agency formed by the region’s six counties and 22 cities, previously called for similar safety measures on another oil company plan to transport oil, likely Bakken, through Sacramento to a Benicia refinery. Valero Refining Co. officials say they hope to start next year shipping two 50-car oil trains a day through Sacramento to that plant.

        Railroads have long successfully argued that federal railroad regulations pre-empt states, counties and cities from imposing any rules on their operations. In their letter, Sacramento officials contend that San Luis Obispo County and Benicia can require the oil refineries to write safety measures into their contracts with the rail carrier companies. A rail law expert, Mike Conneran of the Hanson Bridgett law firm in San Francisco, said Sacramento’s argument might have legal merit, but likely will have to be tested in court.

        Crude-oil trains have proliferated in recent years around the country as producers use newer fracking technologies to unearth previously trapped oil deposits in the West. California Energy Commission analysts say very little of that oil is being transported on rail into California currently, but they say as much as 22 percent of the state’s oil will arrive by train by 2016.

        One such shipment comes through Sacramento, traveling on the rail line that cuts through North Sacramento, midtown, Land Park and Meadowview en route to Richmond in the Bay Area. The BNSF Railway company recently filed papers with state emergency officials indicating they are running up to two trains a week on that route, an increase from one train a week earlier this year.

        Another major crude-by-rail facility, outside of Bakersfield, is expected to open before the end of this year and may take shipments of crude oil on rail that will come through Sacramento. A spokesman for Plains All American, owner of the facility, declined comment on the routes the trains will take, saying that will be a decision the railroad companies will make.

        Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/transportation/article3935260.html#storylink=cpy

         

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