Tag Archives: Southern Pacific Railroad

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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    New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee
    [Editor: This interactive OES map, “Rail Risk and Response” is an incredibly detailed resource – as you zoom in, additional features appear.  Hazards shown on the map include geologically unstable areas, proximity to dense population centers, proximity to waterways, schools and hospitals, pipelines, sensitive species or habitat, etc.  The story in the Sacramento Bee does not contain a link to the map.   Here’s the intro page for the interactive map.   And here’s the map itself.  – RS]

    New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

    By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Newspapers, Jul. 4, 2014

    A map put together by multiple state agencies in California shows that the location and capability of emergency response teams don’t always align with the biggest risks presented by an expected increase in crude oil shipments by rail in the coming years.

    The map shows that the state’s largest population centers, including Sacramento, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, have the most robust emergency response capabilities.

    But rural stretches of California’s rail network, including locations with a history of derailments, have the least equipped and least trained emergency response teams, according to the map produced by the Interagency Working Group on Oil by Rail Safety.

    The map shows large concentrations of hospitals, schools and neighborhoods around many rail lines through California cities. Additionally, it shows that the state’s rail network frequently intersects with fault lines, rivers and streams and sensitive wildlife habitats.

    California has some of the best-trained and best-equipped emergency response teams in the country, according to some experts, but they’re not always where they’re needed.

    “Proximity matters,” said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.

    Since Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a shift in state oil spill and prevention resources in his budget in January, members of the California Legislature have held hearings and offered legislation to improve the state’s preparedness.

    “Everyone recognizes this is a critical need throughout the state,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.

    Starting next year, California will begin imposing a 6.5-cent-a-barrel fee on oil transported to the state by rail to fund oil spill response and prevention efforts. State lawmakers have introduced another bill to levy an additional fee to train and equip firefighters who may be called to respond to a rail incident.

    California officials soon expect the state to receive as much as a quarter of its oil supply by rail, which means more frequent train movements through the state’s highest-risk areas.

    “It makes what we’re doing that much more important,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

    The map was presented last week by the state Environmental Protection Agency at a workshop on crude oil trends at Berkeley City College. It shows a dearth of response capability in locations where derailments have occurred more frequently, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

    These include the Cantara Loop on the upper Sacramento River, the site of a 1991 train derailment that released thousands of gallons of pesticide, killing fish along a 40-mile stretch of the river.

    They also include the Feather River Canyon, which according to documents released last week by OES, is the route of a twice-monthly train of Bakken crude oil. The trains, operated by BNSF, pass through Sacramento on their way to a rail terminal in Richmond.

    “A spill into these sources of water makes it even more problematic,” Pavley said.

    Another vulnerable site: Cuesta Grade, a steep, serpentine stretch of track north of San Luis Obispo. A proposed crude-by-rail terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, south of San Luis Obispo, would bring five 80-car oil trains a week over the line, operated by Union Pacific.

    Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said that the railroad had reached out to fire departments across California in the communities where it operates and has offered “comprehensive” hazardous materials training to first responders around the state.

    “We annually train local, state and federal first-responders on protocols to minimize the impact of a derailment in their communities,” he said.

    BNSF, the railroad that hauls more crude oil than any in North America, is offering hazardous materials training for hundreds of firefighters, including some in Sacramento, according to spokeswoman Lena Kent.

    Trains transporting crude oil are not new in California. From 1983 to 1997, Southern Pacific Railroad operated one such train every day between Bakersfield and South Los Angeles over the Tehachapi Pass.

    But that oil was thicker California crude that doesn’t ignite easily, and it was also transported in specially designed tank cars. Much of the crude oil coming into the state today is lighter and more flammable, and it’s loaded into a fleet of tank cars with a long record of failure in derailments.

    “In light of new risks, it’s essential for first responders to have the right training and equipment to prepare for and respond to accidents,” said Curtis Brundage, a hazardous materials specialist with the San Bernardino Fire Department, in a state Senate hearing last month.

    The worst accident occurred a year ago, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. An unmanned Bakken crude oil train broke loose and derailed in the center of town. Massive fires and explosions killed 47 people and leveled entire blocks of buildings.

    More derailments followed, though none fatal, as the railroads and the federal government initiated a series of safety improvements. Emergency response officials from all over the country have testified in Washington in the past few months that local fire departments lack the resources to confront large fires from trains carrying 3 million gallons of oil.

    In a report last month, OES made a dozen recommendations to improve the safety of California communities, including increased track inspections, stronger tank cars, more funding for emergency response and better notification of hazardous shipments from the railroads.

    Hill gives the railroads credit for taking the issue seriously with stepped-up track inspections, new operating procedures, orders for stronger tank cars and offers to train emergency personnel. But he added that state lawmakers and agencies were right to push for more before a trickle of oil shipments by rail to California turned into a steady stream.

    “We saw what happened elsewhere,” he said. “This is just to make sure California is prepared.”

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