Tag Archives: Los Angeles County CA

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.

 

    Northridge neighbors fight a second railroad track

    Repost from the Los Angeles Daily News

    Northridge neighbors fight a second railroad track

    By Dana Bartholomew, 11/18/15, 8:12 PM PST
    Residents against a proposed changing of a single railroad track in to a double that runs through their Northridge neighborhood, Wednesday, November 11, 2015. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

    NORTHRIDGE >> When dozens of freight and passenger trains whoosh each day past homes in Northridge, curtains are sucked through open windows and nail heads sometimes lifted from floors, residents say.

    And that happens from just one railroad track.

    Now residents along the San Fernando Valley railroad are rattled by plans for a second track running from Van Nuys to Chatsworth. They say the double track would move the trains much closer to their backyards, diminishing property values while increasing noise, vibration and the chance of a dangerous derailment or toxic spill.

    “There’s already a good chance of derailment, because of cars running through our cul de sac,” Briana Guardino, 47, of Northridge, whose home on White Oak Avenue abuts the railroad right of way and lies 60 feet from the track, said during a recent streetside protest. “If they put a new track in here, my family’s dead. If a train tips over, it’s coming straight into our bedroom.”

    The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has long planned to lay a second track across the northwest San Fernando Valley rail corridor. But momentum on the project, which had been scheduled to break ground next year, was slowed when newly appointed Metro CEO Phillip Washington said he would seek more community input and the results of a noise and vibration study requested by residents.

    The Raymer to Bernson Double Track Project, formally proposed in 2011, would add 6.4 miles of new rails between Woodley and De Soto avenues, allowing Metrolink, Amtrak and Union Pacific trains to share a continuous rail corridor across Los Angeles County and beyond.

    The $104 million project, to be paid for by voter-approved Measure R and Proposition 1B transit funds, would include upgrades to traffic controls, grade crossings and roads and bridges along the rail route, while rebuilding the Northridge Metrolink Station to serve an expected boost in passengers.

    By adding a second track, Metro officials say, freight and passenger trains that now sit with their engines idling waiting for trains to pass would operate more efficiently, creating less smog. They say a double track would also promote rail safety, reliability and on-time performance.

    “We would never do anything that was not safe, that we know to be unsafe,” said Paul Gonzales, a spokesman for Metro. “Nothing will be approved, built or operated unless we’re satisfied that it’s safe.”

    Residents’ concerns

    This summer, however, residents of Sherwood Forest caught wind of the double-track plan they say double-crossed the thousands who live along the route by speeding ahead without community input or any state or federal environmental impact reviews.

    Instead, transit officials had won a federal “categorical exclusion,” or environmental study workaround, by claiming “the public has been informed of the project and is in complete support.”

    It wasn’t.

    While public officials and some neighborhood councils were brought up to date, residents living by the railroad tracks were not, they say. So meetings with Metro were called over the summer, with hundreds turning out in opposition. A Citizens Against Double Track Steering Committee coalition was formed.

    More than 1,000 residents have signed a petition to spike the project.

    A protest by the Northridge track last week drew nearly 20 red-clad residents who brandished signs from “Too close to homes = unsafe” to “Destroy property values.” They said the number of trains has grown from up to eight each day 30 years ago to up to three dozen, with more capacity expected with a double track. Three trains, including a 95-car freight, passed within an hour during the protest.

    “Very simply: We all moved in knowing there was a train behind us,” said Stefan Mayer, 59, of Northridge, a contractor who now regularly checks his wood floor for raised nail heads. “What I do have a problem with is the possibility of more trains, more noise, more (danger) and the destruction of our property.”

    Support for residents

    Meanwhile, elected officials from Los Angeles to Washington have voiced support for residents’ opposition. In August, Councilman Mitch Englander called on Metro to explain its reasons for a new track, urging the agency to address local concerns about the environmental review process.

    County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a Metro board member whose district includes the proposed double track, has joined residents with questions about public safety.

    “I have some concerns regarding double tracking in residential areas,” she said last week in a statement. “If Metro decides to move forward with (a) second phase, I will request a full environmental review.

    “I am concerned that the issues the community has raised be addressed and that there be adequate mitigation.”

    Congressman Brad Sherman has also weighed in, saying he shares the concerns of Kuehl and residents affected by trains passing more closely to their homes.

    He said the federal National Environmental Policy Act requires a formal environmental review if the proposed rail project could result in a change in “noise sources” within homes, schools and parks. Metro is now conducting a preliminary noise study.

    “Furthermore, I understand that Metro and Metrolink are considering a proposal which accomplishes the project goals of operational reliability and safety without double-tracking the one-mile stretch of the project which lies adjacent to homes,” Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, said in a statement. “I am hopeful that their efforts to find a solution to the concerns of the affected community prove successful.”

    A Metro town hall meeting that was scheduled to take place today to answer more than a hundred questions from residents was pushed back to mid-December, a Metro spokesman said, or early January to accommodate for the holidays.

    Gonzales, the Metro spokesman, admitted the agency had “fallen down on the job” on community outreach but would make it right.

    “The decision will be made according to what’s right, for not only the local community, but the transportation system as a whole,” he said. “Their needs, desires will be taken into account.

    “We have listened — and continue to listen — to people in that neighborhood, and are taking their issues into account.”

    One known incident

    Residents said the only known incident along the line was a derailment during the 1994 Northridge earthquake and that seismic safety precludes a second track.

    They questioned the need for a second track when Metrolink ridership has dropped more than 9 percent since 2008 — from 45,443 daily boardings to 41,248, according to a recent study — with some passenger cars nearly empty.

    They questioned a “track shift” they said would force trains to cross over from a new double track north of the current rails to new rails laid to the south, creating another hazard. But there will be no track switch, Metro officials say.

    They also questioned the safety of moving rails closer to their homes that carry explosive crude oil trains. Two years ago, an oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, with a resulting explosion that killed 47 and burned 30 buildings. Last summer, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion urging a San Luis Obispo Planning Commission to block a proposed Phillips 66 refinery expansion that could send five 1.4-mile-long oil trains a week into Los Angeles through the San Fernando Valley.

    If a crude-bearing train were to derail in the highly populated Valley, a blast ratio of 1,000 feet could kill 3,000 people, residents say.

    “When they started this (double track), they essentially cheated our neighborhood out of an environmental impact report,” said Michael Rissi, co-chairman of the steering committee to fight a second track. “We want an EIR.

    “But we really don’t want a double track. The single track has been here for 102 years without an accident, and we want it to stay that way.”

      California shuts dozens of oil wells to stop wastewater injection

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

      State shuts 33 wells injecting oil wastewater into aquifers

      By David R. Baker, October 16, 2015
      A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
      A person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

      California regulators on Thursday closed 33 oil company wells that had injected wastewater into potentially drinkable aquifers protected by federal law.

      The new closures bring to 56 the number of oil-field wastewater injection wells shut down by the state after officials realized they were pumping oil-tainted water into aquifers that potentially could be used for drinking or irrigation.

      All but two of the latest closures are in Kern County, in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. One lies in Ventura County, another in northern Los Angeles County. Officials with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources spent Friday verifying that they had, in fact, closed. Of the 33, only 21 had been actively injecting wastewater before Thursday.

      “This is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that California’s groundwater resources are protected as oil and gas production take place,” said Steven Bohlen, the division’s supervisor.

      California’s oil fields contain large amounts of salty water that comes to the surface mixed with the oil. It must be separated from the petroleum and disposed of, often by injecting it back underground. Much of the water is pumped back into the same geologic formation it came from. But enough left-over water remains that companies must find other places to put it.

      Fears of contamination

      The division, part of California’s Department of Conservation, for years issued oil companies permits to inject their left-over water into aquifers that were supposed to be off-limits, protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

      The problem, detailed in a Chronicle investigation earlier this year, raised fears of water contamination in a state struggling through a historic, four-year drought.

      So far, however, no drinking water supplies have been found to be tainted by the injections.

      Still, some environmentalists expressed outrage that so few wells had been closed.

      The division has identified 178 wells that were injecting into legally protected aquifers with relatively high water quality, defined as those with a maximum of 3,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids. More than 2,000 other wells inject into aquifers that would be harder to use for drinking water, either because they are too salty or because they also contain oil.

      “This is too little, too late to protect our water,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With each passing day the oil industry is polluting more and more of our precious water.”

      The division reported Friday, however, that not all 178 wells required closure. Some had already been shut down by their operators, while others had been converted into wells for extracting oil — not dumping wastewater.

      An oil industry trade group noted that all of the wells closed Thursday had received state permits, even if the state now acknowledges that those permits should never have been issued.

      “Both regulators and producers are committed to protecting underground water supplies, and today’s announcement reinforces the seriousness of that commitment,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.

      Safeguarding water supplies

      “California’s oil and natural gas producers are committed to operating their wells in a manner that continues to safeguard public water supplies,” she said.

      Revelations that the division allowed injections into relatively fresh groundwater supplies touched off a political firestorm, triggered lawsuits, and led Bohlen to launch a reorganization of his staff.

      More well closures will likely follow. Under regulations adopted this year, wells injecting into aquifers with water quality between 3,000 and 10,000 total dissolved solids must cease injections by Feb. 15, 2017, unless granted an exemption from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.