Tag Archives: Rep. Doris Matsui

Union Pacific decision imperils sports events in Sacramento CA

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Texas train tragedy imperils sports events in California’s capital

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, 04/17/2015 1:39 PM
Runners wait for the race to begin during the 32nd annual California International Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Organizers of sports events in California’s capital are concerned that the nation’s largest railroad may not allow participants to cross tracks, forcing them to reroute or cancel more races.
Runners wait for the race to begin during the 32nd annual California International Marathon on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Organizers of sports events in California’s capital are concerned that the nation’s largest railroad may not allow participants to cross tracks, forcing them to reroute or cancel more races. Andrew Seng / Aseng@sacbee.com

— Every year for a decade, organizers of the Kaiser Permanente Women’s Fitness Festival took care of an important detail without much difficulty: asking Union Pacific Railroad permission for runners to cross its track that bisects the city of Sacramento.

Kim Parrino, the event’s race director, put in the request to the railroad for safe passage for about 4,000 participants in a June 5K and half-marathon back in September.

She got the return call two weeks ago. And for the first time ever, the answer was no.

“It was a very short conversation,” she said.

Parrino was forced to cancel the Women’s Festival half-marathon and reroute the 5K so it doesn’t cross the Union Pacific track.

“We have a beautiful downtown area, and we can’t run through it,” she said. “We’re cut off.”

Organizers of other sports events in California’s capital are concerned that the nation’s largest railroad may give them the same answer, forcing them to reroute or cancel more races. It could threaten the California International Marathon, which brings 14,000 runners and millions of dollars to the Sacramento-area economy, and could affect the ability of the city to host future events.

“The policy shift is something that presents significant challenges,” said Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission.

Though the railroad won’t elaborate on what prompted its change in policy, Sophia said the difficulties began two years ago, a few months after the fatal collision of a Union Pacific train and a veterans parade float in Midland, Texas, in November 2012.

“I do believe it’s a safety issue,” Sophia said. “That’s understandable.”

That parade’s organizers never told the railroad that their route would cross its track, and a train slammed into a parade float at 60 mph. Four veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were killed, having pushed their spouses out of harm’s way seconds before impact.

Though the National Transportation Safety Board faulted the parade’s organizers and found Union Pacific to be in compliance with federal law, 43 survivors and family members of crash victims sued the railroad. Union Pacific reached a confidential settlement with 26 of them in January. In February, a Texas judge dismissed a lawsuit by the remaining 17.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said the railroad made decisions about whether to grant safe passage on a case-by-case basis. He offered no specific reasons for the company’s change in policy on safe passage for Sacramento events or who changed it.

“We asked officials to reroute their race due to safety concerns for event participants,” he said.

Rail transportation is federally regulated, giving state and local officials little say over how railroads operate. Railroad rights-of-way are privately owned property, and organizers of events that intersect with railroad tracks are obligated to seek permission to cross.

In addition to safety issues, there are business costs. Idling trains for hours at a time can delay freight shipments. Hunt said that Union Pacific, which has a parallel route that avoids the middle of Sacramento, does not reroute trains for special events.

Last year, the railroad didn’t grant safe passage for the California International Marathon until November, a month before the race.

Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat, helped resolve last year’s impasse and encouraged the railroad to work with Sacramento to find a safe way to hold events.

“Events such as the Women’s Fitness Festival and the International Marathon are important to our community and our economy,” she said in a statement this week.

The California International Marathon has been run every year for 32 years. The 26-mile race starts in Folsom and proceeds west to the state capitol. But the Union Pacific track presents a barrier. Major east-west streets in Sacramento cross the railroad at ground level, and there are no overpasses or underpasses.

“It’s very hard to do much in the downtown corridor without coming in contact with those tracks,” said Scott Abbott, executive director of the Sacramento Running Association, which founded the International Marathon in 1983.

The race had a close call in 2003, when a train crossed the marathon route during the previously arranged safety window.

“We weren’t prepared for that,” Abbott said.

Last fall, even though organizers of the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, Ind., made arrangements with a local railroad in advance, a train made an unexpected appearance.

Video footage shows runners scrambling to beat the slow-moving train. When it stopped, some climbed between the cars. The few police officers on hand could do little to stop it.

Just last week, a similar problem beset the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race in France. When the gates came down at a railroad crossing, many competitors darted around them in front of a high-speed passenger train.

No one was injured in these incidents, but the combination of focused athletes and trains that need as much as a mile to stop can lead to tragic consequences.

“A lot can go wrong, even with the proper precautions,” said Steven Schmader, president and CEO of the International Festivals & Events Association, whose group participated in the NTSB investigation of the Texas accident.

According to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety education group, California led the nation last year in railroad crossing fatalities involving trains and cars, with 33. More people were killed while walking across or on railroad tracks in California than any other state with 101 deaths and 53 injuries, according to federal statistics.

Abbott said the Sacramento Running Association has rerouted every other event it holds to avoid crossing the railroad tracks, but moving the International Marathon course has too many downsides. Rerouting the race would require adjusting the mileage and could potentially disrupt local traffic and inconvenience participants who are staying in downtown hotels.

“With the numbers of people that we have and the amount of time we impact at the finish area,” he said, “the capitol grounds are really the only acceptable place to finish on a Sunday morning in Sacramento.”

Schmader, whose office, coincidentally, is in the old Union Pacific station in Boise, Idaho, said Sacramento leaders should come together to stress the importance of the marathon.

“Everybody would hate to see a good event go away or changed to its detriment,” he said.

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    Vallejo Times-Herald: Thompson introduces act addressing crude by rail

    Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
    [Editor:  See also coverage in McClatchyDC News.  – RS]

    Thompson introduces act addressing crude by rail

    By Irma Widjojo, 04/15/15, 8:06 PM PDT

    Another bill concerning the transportation of crude oil by rail was introduced Wednesday, following at least two others in the past month. With a pending Valero Refinery crude-by-rail project in the works, concerned Benicians and activists said though they acknowledge the effort in the bill, they’d like to see more.

    U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, coauthored the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act, which would “establish new, common sense federal safety standards for railcars transporting oil across the country,” according to a release from Thompson’s office.

    The act would take on a number of factors, including maximum volatility standard for crude oil transported by rail, higher fines for violating volatility standards and hazmat transport standards. The act will also seek to remove 37,700 unsafe cars off the rail network and recommend other measures to increase the safety of crude by rail.

    “Public safety is priority No. 1 when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said in the release.

    There have been four derailments of trains carrying crude oil in the United States and Canada in under a month earlier this year — in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Ontario.

    Thompson said he has been working on the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act for about a year. The proposed legislation was also authored by Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Nita Lowey, D-NY.

    “Folks in the district had concerns,” he said. “Explosions have people worried.”

    The bill will still have to go through its due process before it could get signed into law, and that could take some time.

    Activists said these procedures won’t come in time before another possible disaster strikes.

    Marilyn Bardet, a Benicia resident and environmental activist, said that even if the policy was put in place, it wouldn’t be done before the pending Valero’s Crude-by-Rail project is underway.

    “That is a huge concern,” Bardet said. “Valero talks about their safety record, but they are talking about the safety of the refinery. This is really the project of the railroad.”

    Benicia is currently processing the use permit and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project. The Recirculated Draft EIR is anticipated to be released for public comment June 30. It will have a 45-day comment period. After the comment period closes, the city will complete the final version, which will include responses to all comments.

    Bardet said she’s glad to see an effort from congress to address the Department of Transportation and the issue, but said from her initial perusing of the act she found that there were missing components to it.

    A few of her concerns that are not mentioned in the proposed act are speed reduction, plans on dealing with explosions and derailment in remote areas and the safety of bridges.

    “There are derailments on a regular basis, and historically they have not been shipping oil in hundreds and hundreds of (train) cars across the country,” Bardet said. “They are doing this at the risk of people’s safety and the environment.”

    A spokesman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, an advocate group against the crude-by-rail project, agreed with Bardet’s sentiment.

    “In general we’re glad to see our federal representatives are paying attention to the critical issue that impact communities around the country,” Andrés Soto said.

    However, Soto is doubting the passage of the bill.

    “I think that there’s going to be a major challenge to get this legislation passed,” he said, adding that he would like to see more transparency from the refineries and railroad companies.

    Thompson said he doesn’t know if he’s going to be met with pushbacks on the proposed bill.

    “I’m trying to do what’s right, and not what’s easy,” he said.

    Soto said the only way to ensure the community’s safety before a policy is set is by having a national moratorium on the transportation of these crude oils, especially of more volatile kinds like Bakken shale oil.

    Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, an outspoken advocate of rail safety, calls the bill “a good start” and is “a comprehensive way to address rail safety.”

    Speaking in a general context of the issue, Patterson said she is glad to see that “the dots have been connected between the issue of volatility of some of the products and transportation.”

    She shared some of the few questions that the activists had, including waiting for a set of standards.

    “What’s the rush?” Patterson said. “Why not take some time out and get our house in order in terms of federal regulations, and the response to accidents?”

    She also said she would like to see funding in place for the response to accidents and training for local governments and public safety personnel.

    “The response equipment doesn’t exist in most routes,” Patterson said. “The funding needs to be there.”

    Paterson acknowledged that the bill is still in its early stages.

    “I imagine there would be a lot of comments,” she said. “It’s a good first start, I wouldn’t want to see anything less. It shows that (Thompson) has been listening to the public, and he’s responded.”

    To read the proposed act, visit mcdermott.house.gov/images/pdf/crudebyrailsafetyct.pdf.

    A similar senate bill was also introduced last month by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

    U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, also authored a legislation, H.R. 1679, in March, which would prohibit the transport of crude-by-rail unless authorities have reduced the volatile gases in the oil prior to transportation.

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      Benicia Herald: Rep. pens crude-by-rail safety bill

      Repost from The Benicia Herald

      Rep. pens crude-by-rail safety bill

      ■ Mike Thompson: Recent accidents show need for ‘robust’ action

      By Donna Beth Weilenman, April 15, 2015 
      MIKE THOMPSON. File photo
      MIKE THOMPSON. File photo

      U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, the Napa Democrat who represents Benicia in the House, has introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act he co-authored to establish comprehensive safety security standards for transporting crude oil by train.

      The act, presented to the House on Wednesday, is a response to concerns that current safety standards don’t address hazards such transports pose, Thompson said.

      Joining him in co-authoring the proposed legislation were Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Ron Kind, D-Wis. and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

      The Crude-By-Rail Safety Act would put in place safety measures Thompson said would assure that communities through which oil is transported by train are secure, that rail cars are as strong as possible and that first responders are prepared to handle emergencies.

      While many opponents of crude by rail cite the July 6, 2013, Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 in the town in Quebec, Canada, Thompson said several more accidents involving trains hauling crude already have taken place this year in Canada and the United States.

      A CSX train in West Virginia on its way to Yorktown, Va., was pulling CPC 1232 tanker cars, designed to be less vulnerable and stronger than the earlier-model D-111s [sic] that exploded in the Lac-Megantic crash. But the oil train derailed Feb. 16 near Mount Carbon, W.Va., and fire and leaking North Dakota oil could be seen a day later. Two towns had to be evacuated, one house was destroyed, at least one derailed car entered the Kanawha River and a nearby water treatment plant was closed.

      A March 10 derailment three miles outside of Galena, Ill., involved 21 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train hauling Bakken crude. Three days later, a 94-car Canadian National Railway crude oil train derailed three miles away from Gogama, Northern Ontario, and destroyed a bridge. That derailment was just 23 miles from the site of a Feb. 14 derailment involving a 100-car Canadian National Railways train traveling from Alberta.

      Those accidents, Thompson said, “underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.”

      He said the act would establish a maximum volatility standard for crude oil, propane, butane, methane and ethane that is transported by rail. It would forbid using DOT-111 tank cars and would remove 37,700 of those cars from the rail network.

      He said the legislation would establish the strongest tank car standards to date.

      Railroads would be required to disclose train movements through communities and to establish confidential close-call reporting systems. Another requirement would be the creation of emergency response plans, he said.

      The legislation calls for comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies and would increase fines for violating volatility standards and hazardous materials transport standards.

      This is not the first time Thompson has addressed rail safety.

      In December 2014, he wrote legislation improving rail and refinery security and requiring an intelligence assessment of the security of domestic oil refineries and the railroads that serve them.

      A quarter-century earlier, when he was a state senator, Thompson was alarmed by the July 14, 1991 Southern Pacific derailment and resulting toxic spill at Dunsmuir, a small resort town on the Upper Sacramento River.

      The derailment sent 19,000 gallons of soil fumigant into the river, killing more than a million fish, millions of other types of animals and hundreds of thousands of trees.

      The fumigant sent a 41-mile plume along the river to Shasta Lake, an incident that still ranks as one of California’s largest hazardous chemical spills, from which some species have never recovered.

      The incident occurred in what was Thompson’s state senatorial district. In response he drafted a bill that became Chapter 766 of the California State Statutes of 1991.

      His bill founded the Railroad Accident Prevention and Immediate Deployment (RAPID) Force, which cooperates with other agencies to respond to large-scale releases of toxic materials spilled during surface transportation accidents; ordered the California Environmental Protection Agency to develop a statewide program to address such emergencies; and for a time raised money to supply emergency responders with equipment they would need for spill cleanups.

      “Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said Wednesday.

      “Rail cars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed.”

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        IMMEDIATE BAN ON DOT-111 tank cars: Crude-By-Rail Safety Act

        From Rep. Mike Thompson’s website
        [Editor:  Read the bill on Rep. McDermott’s website.  Track the bill on GovTrac.us.   Authenticated version of the bill is here.    HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT:  Sec. 4. Requires the Secretary of Transportation to immediately prohibit the shipment of oil in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars.  Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service.  Requires the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit, after 2 years, the shipment of ethanol in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars.  Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service.  – RS]

        THOMPSON INTRODUCES CRUDE-BY-RAIL SAFETY ACT

        Apr 15, 2015, Press Release

        WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) today co-authored and introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act which establishes comprehensive new safety and security standards for the transport of crude oil by rail. The legislation is designed to help protect communities along the nation’s railway networks. The legislation comes amid growing concerns that current standards do not address the threat posed by transporting crude oil by rail. Representatives Jim McDermott (WA-7), Doris Matsui (CA-6) and Ron Kind (WI-3), and Nita Lowey (NY-17) introduced the legislation with Thompson.

        “Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” said Thompson. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today  puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”

        In recent months, the large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to increased rail traffic and a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the US and Canada in under a month earlier this year underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.

        The Crude-by-Rail Safety Act would establish new, commonsense federal safety standards for railcars transporting oil across the country.  This legislation:

        • Establishes a maximum volatility standard for crude oil (propane, butane, methane, and ethane) transported by rail
        • Prohibits use of unsafe DOT-111 tank cars, including the removal of 37,700 unsafe cars off the rail network
        • Establishes the strongest tank car standards to-date
        • Requires comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies
        • Increases fines for violating volatility standards and hazmat transport standards
        • Requires disclosure of train movements through communities and emergency response plans
        • Requires railroads to implement a confidential close-call reporting systems

        Congressman Mike Thompson is proud to represent California’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all or part of Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties.  He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Thompson is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and chairs the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Wine Caucus.

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