Tag Archives: Martinez City Council

KCBS 740AM PART III: Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area

Repost from CBS SF Bay Area 740AM (Part 3 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 II, Safety Info For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads.  – RS]

Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area

The Alhambra Trestle in Martinez. (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)
The Alhambra Trestle in Martinez. (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)

KCBS Cover Story Special, Part 3 of 3, Produced by Giancarlo RulliDecember 31, 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) – In May, U.S. transportation officials ordered the nation’s rail companies to disclose information to emergency responders on the routes and number of trains carrying a highly volatile crude oil through the Bay Area and elsewhere.

But some Bay Area and California officials claim the railroads are dragging their feet, stalling efforts to come with an emergency plan in case of a major disaster on the tracks.

According to the BNSF Railway, every 7-10 days, a 100-car long train carrying Bakken crude oil make sits way through Contra Costa County over the Alhambra trestle in Martinez.

Residents Bill Nichols and Jim Neu are among the many who have serious concerns. “The scary thing about the crude, it already has a proven track record of catastrophic accidents,” said Nichols. “These are ticking time bombs waiting to go off. If there was ever a derailment, it would affect the town with major casualties,” Neu said.

Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Marshal Robert Marshall worries about a train derailing from that height. “If you drop something from that height, it’s going to create a lot of damage.”

Marshall said he’s been working to create an emergency response plan, but needs to know how many trains are coming and when. But he said the state Office of Emergency Services can’t tell him. State OES Deputy Director Kelly Huston said that’s because the railroads haven’t provided him with that information.

“We’d love to be able to look it up online like an Amtrak schedule and be able to tell specifically when a terrain is coming through, where it’s going and give that direct access to local first responders,” Huston said.

KCBS has learned that BNSF sent a confidential letter to the Office of Emergency Services in September, informing them that Contra Costa County will see at least a 25 percent increase in Bakken fuel trains. But BNSF refused to say exactly how many and when, citing federal regulations and that they consider the information to be a confidential trade secret.

Bay Area Congressman John Garamendi disagrees. “It must be made available to the local emergency response agencies,” Garamendi said.

BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent said the company’s track record of moving hazardous materials speaks for itself.

“We handle all of our commodities with safety at the forefront. It’s far safer to move hazardous materials over our nation’s railroads then on our nation’s highways,” she said.

But longtime Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross said the railroad needs to be a better partner by being transparent and ensuring public safety. “Why don’t you get ahead of it, let’s work with government, work with the cities and communities that you’re running through, and solve the problem now.”

Hear the entire three-part cover story series.
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    Martinez Environmental Group: Volatile crude by rail IS a concern

    Repost from The Martinez Gazette, Letters

    ‘Volatile crude by rail IS a concern’

    June 26, 2014

    Dear Editor,

    The front page headline of the June 14-15 edition of the Martinez News-Gazette read: “Crude by rail not a local threat, CAER director says.”   The article covered the recent City of Martinez Public Safety Committee, which convened to examine the Bakken crude by rail issue. The meeting was dominated by CAER director Tony Semenza, who is also principal of a consulting firm that serves a number of major local refineries.

    Mr. Semenza was quoted “… there is one train, with up to 100 tanker cars, that originates in Stockton every 7-10 days and ends up at the Kinder Morgan facility in Richmond, traveling via the tracks that parallel Highway 4.” In other words, this train is going right through Martinez! It rolls over the (rusty) Alhambra trestle carrying 3,000,000 gallons of Bakken crude, the same oil that has been exploding all over North America and that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.  According to maps recently released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an explosion by an oil train on that track would threaten thousands of Martinez residents and endanger five schools located within the zone of impact.

    Minimizing the issue by only focusing on the one present train ignores recent trends and projections for the near future. Only one train now. There were none this time last year.  Next year, if the refineries have their way, there very well could be a drastic increase of oil train traffic through our town. Nationally, crude oil train traffic is skyrocketing, from 9,500 carloads in U.S. in 2008 to 434,000 in 2013.  California crude-by-rail rose an incredible 506 percent just from 2012 to 2013, with a further 24-fold increase expected by 2016. Accidents have also increased across the country.

    Just in the past 11 months, there have been nine major derailments of oil trains, involving explosions, evacuations and spills. These trains spilled over a million gallons of crude oil, more than spilled by railroads in the past 37 years combined. And with crude-by-rail projects pending all around Martinez in Benicia, Pittsburg, Rodeo and Santa Maria, we will  see more than just one train every 7-10 days. So, let’s not minimize the risk. Volatile crude by rail IS something we need to be concerned about here in Martinez.

    The disappointing part of the Martinez Public Safety Committee meeting was the decision by Mike Menesini and Anamarie Avila Farias to not immediately elevate the issue to the full City Council, despite the current threat to our health and safety. If you live anywhere near the tracks, check out www.mrtenvgrp.com for more information, and write or call your city council to ask them to do something meaningful on this issue quickly. Other Bay Area cities have passed resolutions opposing the passage of crude by rail. Martinez needs to do the same.

    Signed,

    Martinez Environmental Group Members Aimee Durfee, Tom Griffith, Bill Nichols, Jim Neu, Kathy Petricca, Guy Cooper, Nancy Peacock, Karen & Arnie Wadler

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      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.

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