Tag Archives: Rail infrastructure

AUBURN CALIFORNIA: No to proposal that would bring oil through Auburn

Repost from the Auburn Journal

Another View: No to proposal that would bring oil through Auburn

By: Rosalie Wohlfromm / Guest Columnist

Rosalie WohlfrommDo you remember back in 2013, when there was a train derailment carrying crude oil in Lac-Megantic, Quebec? That incident resulted in a fiery explosion and caused the death of 47 people.

It has been reported that crude oil from North Dakota and Canada into California would be expected to rise from just 1 percent of total oil imports in 2013 to 25 percent by 2016, according to state energy officials.

This oil would travel by rail through densely populated areas to refineries on the coast. One of these routes is right through our town of Auburn.  We could see trains pulling 100 oil tanker cars going past our homes, schools and parks.

Since 2013, we have heard of numerous derailments causing evacuations of citizens from their homes. One of the latest was last February in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is now known that the cause of the derailment was  a broken rail, which was missed in two previous inspections.

Oil giant Valero wants to build a massive terminal for oil trains at its Benicia refinery. Union Pacific runs from Reno via Donner Pass, a dangerous route that, according to the Environmental Impact Report for Valero Crude by Rail Project, has only 3.5 percent of Class 4 or 5 track, the quality deemed by the U.S. Dept of Transportation necessary to support daily travel of extremely heavy unit trains made up of over 100 tank cars loaded with crude oil.

The City of Benicia is currently in the process of approving or rejecting the Valero Refinery’s proposed CBR project, which would permit Union Pacific to haul crude oil through Auburn.  If this project is approved, Auburn could see oil trains loaded with highly flammable oil from North Dakota running right through our town on their way to Benicia. I ask you to remember what happened in Lynchburg. That could happen here.

Concerned citizens of Benicia are asking for those of us along the rail lines to call or write the City of Benicia City Manager, Brad Kilger, 250 E.L. Street, Benicia CA 94510 or e-mail Planner Amy Million at amillion@ci.benicia.ca.us.   Please submit your comments by 5pm on Oct. 30.

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    LETTER: The New Revised DEIR (ho hum)

    LETTER: The New Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report

    By Jim Kirchhoffer, September 28, 2015

    The title alone is enough to make a casual reader turn on football or a cooking show. The new report, after an outcry from our local citizens, is just as numbing and distortive as the first one.  It will be open for discussion on Tuesday, September 29.

    At the meeting last year, I offered a request for details on how the figure for potential rail disasters of .001 % was computed.  It was also stated as one potential derailment every 111 years!

    This particular statistic was picked up by the national and state press and others, to the confusion of all.  Since I represent no one of any importance, I was not surprised to see it was not addressed in the new report. The new  report does, however, admit to 4 oil train bomb derailments events this year.  I think there have now been five. Irreguardless, as we say back in Indiana, that’s a jolly big difference from one every 111 years or .001%!

    Do they really think we’re that stupid ? I guess so.

    In other words, fellow readers and citizens, the new report as well as the first report is a rigged, crafted, professional snow job to sell us a bill of goods.

    Valero paid for it. That’s the way the process works.  And they sure got their money’s worth!  Yes Valero is a very good neighbor.  They fund many local activities, and put up, I understand, 25% of our town’s budget. But what is the core of the deal?

    Valero wants to cut half of the marine crude that comes in to receiving that same amount by train. See, no increase in oil we refine at all, just this switch in transportation. What’s the problem with that?

    Why are they so eager ?

    Well, as a local friend reminds me, “Follow the money”. There is fantastic profit in Bakkan crude, and the only way to get it to Benicia is by rail.  In cars that explode in derailments into massive fires that firefighters have to let simply burn out. Which cars can not be replaced for several years, at best. On rail lines that transverse some of  our most beautiful and treasured waterways. And in the southern Nevada route–one of three ways into the state–the report itself reveals that 82% of that rail line has rails that are on the 3-4 scale, verses the 4-5 that Amtrak and the rest of Union Pacific use.  And we have no power or control over which line Union Pacific uses.

    Valero wants to make a lot more money.  Nothing wrong with that.  In fact that’s their legal mandate; increase profit for their shareholders. If the CEO doesn’t, the Board of Directors fires him. That’s the way the game is played.

    And the way we play the game is to reject the Environmental Report.  It is a farce, and if you have read either or both, you will see that right away. The only way to get this terribly dangerous crude oil away is to stop Valero from changing their current transportation procedure. Before this plan of Valero, there were no complaints.  No rally’s and demonstrations and hundreds of people crowing into Council chambers to protest.

    Valero can go on just as they have been doing, which seems to have been working well for them. We can go on feeling safe in our homes and town. Do we really want 2 (two) 50 tank car trains per day rolling into Benicia each and everyday ?

    I think not.  What’s in it for us ?  Hope you can come to the meeting on Tuesday, September 29.

    Jim Kirchhoffer
    Benicia, California
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      Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no

      Repost from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

      Asked for info on bridge conditions, railroad carrying Bakken crude tells cities no

      By Lee Bergquist, Sept. 13, 2015
      A flotilla of kayaks and boats and a small crowd onshore hold banners and beat drums Sunday to raise concerns about the transport by rail of oil through Milwaukee and across an aging railroad bridge at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers near S. 1st Place.
      A flotilla of kayaks and boats and a small crowd onshore hold banners and beat drums Sunday to raise concerns about the transport by rail of oil through Milwaukee and across an aging railroad bridge at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers near S. 1st Place. | Michael Sears

      Despite urging from a federal agency that railroads hand over more information on safety conditions of bridges, a carrier moving Bakken crude oil through Milwaukee says it doesn’t plan to provide such details.

      Trains carrying Bakken crude go through downtown Milwaukee, leaving some residents afraid of what will happen if there is a spill. This train passes by the apartment of Brian Chiu on W. Oregon St. | Brian Chiu

      Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) distributed a letter from Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in which the regulator urged railroad carriers to provide more information to municipalities on the safety status of bridges. Milwaukee officials have complained about the lack of information on the structural integrity of railroad bridges used by Canadian Pacific in the city.

      “When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response,” Feinberg wrote.

      “I urge you to engage more directly with local leaders and provide more timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound.”

      “CP’s position has not changed,” said Andy Cummings, a manager of media relations for the company.

      “It is our policy to work directly with the Federal Railroad Administration, which is our regulator, on any concerns they have with our infrastructure.”

      The exchange comes in the wake of growing concerns from communities along rail corridors used by railroads shipping a growing tide of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

      Those worries have been exacerbated by tanker accidents. The most notable is the July 2013 derailment of tankers that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The tankers had been routed through Milwaukee before the accident.

      There have been no accidents involving crude in Wisconsin, but on March 5 a BNSF Railway train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., after leaving Wisconsin. Twenty-one tankers derailed. Galena is about 10 miles south of the border.

      In Milwaukee, one bridge in question is a 300-foot-long structure, known as a steel stringer bridge, at W. Oregon St. and S. 1st St. The bridge was constructed in 1919, according to Bridgehunter.com, which keeps a database of historic bridges.

      Canadian Pacific said on Sept. 1 that it would encase 13 of the bridge’s steel columns with concrete to prevent further corrosion and to extend the life of the columns. The carrier said last week that a protective layer of concrete will be applied late this month.

      Since last spring, neighbors have expressed worries about the integrity of the bridge, and since July city officials have sought details on the condition of the bridge.

      In addition to the threat to human safety, environmental groups such as Milwaukee Riverkeeper say about three dozen bridges cross rivers and streams in the Milwaukee River basin.

      On Sunday, a flotilla of kayaks and canoes paddled at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers to underscore the connection between trains and the city’s waterways.

      Bridges must be inspected annually by railroads. But railroads are not required to submit the information to the federal agency. Railroads also are not required to make the information available to the public.

      Cummings said the bridge on S. 1st St. has been inspected by a railroad bridge inspector. “We are confident in its ability to safely handle freight and passenger train traffic,” Cummings said.

      In her letter, Feinberg said the agency is “re-evaluating” its programs to determine whether it needs to take additional steps.

      Common Council President Michael Murphy said he isn’t satisfied by Feinberg’s comments.

      “I would liked to have seen a little more teeth in it,” he said.

      Murphy said Canadian Pacific should be more transparent, adding that he expects the company to brief the council’s public safety panel soon on the bridge’s condition.

      Baldwin and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, also a Democrat, said in an editorial in the La Crosse Tribune last week that oil trains have put “hundreds of communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin at risk for the explosive crashes that come when an oil train derails.”

      Nationally, trains carrying crude oil in the United States have jumped from 10,840 carloads in 2009 to 233,698 in 2012 to 493,127 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.

      Canadian Pacific is shipping seven to 11 Bakken crude trains a week through Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, according to the latest data sent to the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management. BNSF is shipping 20 to 30 trainloads along the Mississippi River.

      In a federal transportation bill that has passed the Senate but not yet the House, Baldwin and Franken said they added language that would make oil train information available for first responders. It would also give state and local officials access to inspection records of bridges.

      Sunday’s paddle protest in Milwaukee was meant to highlight concerns by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Citizens Acting for Rail Safety that the area’s aging bridges were not built to accommodate so much oil.

      Cheryl Nenn of Riverkeeper said a rail accident that spilled crude could have long-lasting effects on the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, and Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water.

      Complicating a potential oil spill in downtown Milwaukee is wave action from Lake Michigan, known as a seiche effect, where surging water from the lake can push water upstream, she said.

      “The Milwaukee River is cleaner today than it has been in decades, and now we face a threat from crude oil,” Nenn said.

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        Sen. Bob Casey calls for more funding for railroad bridges

        Repost from The Herald, Sharon PA

        Casey calls for more funding for railroad bridges

        By John Finnerty, CNHI Harrisburg, August 7, 2015 7:38 am

        HARRISBURG – The federal government must step up oversight of railroad bridges as hundreds of trains carrying explosive crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota cross the state each week, said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

        Casey, a Democrat and the state’s senior senator, has repeatedly criticized the government’s regulation of railroads in light of derailments and explosions involving crude oil.

        Pennsylvania has more than 900 bridges that carry trains over highways, Casey said. The Federal Railroad Administration has just one inspector to check those bridges.

        Under a 2010 Federal Railroad Administration rule, railroads must check each bridge at least once a year. At the time that rule was adopted, the government estimated there were 100,000 railroad bridges in the United States.

        Railroads face fines of $100,000 for failing to comply with inspection rules.

        But short-staffing at the railroad administration means the agency is in no position to ensure that railroads comply, Casey said.

        “This lack of oversight could cause gaps in our rail safety system and creates an environment where hundreds of unsafe bridges could be in daily use without proper federal oversight,” he said in a written statement. “It’s time to put more cops on the beat by hiring more rail inspectors. With the risks that our communities face only increasing, the FRA needs to put this process into overdrive.”

        Before the Bakken region’s tracking boom, railroads carried about 9,500 cars of crude oil a year. This year they’re on track to top a half-million, according to the American Association of Railroads.

        That includes trains that carry at least 60 to 70 million gallons of crude oil across Pennsylvania each week.

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