Tag Archives: Union Pacific

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.”

    Railroads oppose some oil train safety measures

    Repost from Politico

    Documents: Railroads want to hit brakes on some oil train safeguards

    By KATHRYN A. WOLFE | 6/13/14 5:08 AM EDT
    A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota, on Dec. 20, 2013.
    The report previews what the administration may be considering to stop crashes. | AP Photo: A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota, on Dec. 20, 2013.

    The railroad industry is warning the White House against some potential safety rules for trains carrying explosive crude oil, saying freight and passenger rail traffic could be disrupted for years if companies must obey 30 mph speed limits, install more sophisticated brakes and keep the trains manned at all times.

    The arguments, contained in documents posted after a meeting this week between railroad officials and the Office of Management and Budget, also offer a preview of what steps the Obama administration may be considering in response to oil train crashes that have struck the U.S. and Canada in the past year. Those include a disastrous July 6 explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, after an engineer left a train packed with North Dakota crude oil parked on a steep incline with brakes that may not have been properly set.

    The Department of Transportation declined to comment on the documents. DOT submitted a draft rule proposal to OMB in April but has offered no details about what’s in it.

    Companies represented at Tuesday’s OMB meeting included the four major freight railroads — BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX — as well as other industry groups and Amtrak, according to White House records.

    While Amtrak doesn’t haul crude oil, a BNSF handout arguing against lower speed limits said the passenger rail’s travel schedules on one 1,815-mile route could be lengthened by two hours if oil trains’ top speeds are lowered to 30 mph from 50 mph. That route stretches between Aurora, Ill., and Spokane, Wash., which BNSF called its primary route for crude oil.

    Slowdowns would cause “severe” impacts for the railroad’s operations, including both oil and grain shipments, BNSF said in the handout, calculating six-hour delays for freight trains along the same route. All told, the railroad said it would have to spend $2.8 billion to rebuild its lost shipping capacity during the next four years, while facing $630 million in additional annual expenses such as additional crew wages and lost productivity.

    The Association of American Railroads, the freight railroad industry’s main trade group, offered a similar document on the speed limit issue.

    None of the documents address the main issue people are expecting the DOT rule to address: increased safety requirements for the tanker cars that carry the oil.

    Oil train traffic across the U.S. has increased 40-fold since 2008 because of booming production in places like North Dakota and western Canada. It’s also become an increasingly contentious issue for communities from California and Washington state to Albany, N.Y., and Lynchburg, Va.

    The documents may not accurately reflect DOT’s undisclosed draft — the railroads may have been blindly making a case for what they don’t want to see happen. But they reveal that industry insiders have given thought to potential regulations that would go much further than the mostly voluntary measures DOT has imposed so far.

    Earlier this year, DOT announced that railroads had voluntarily agreed to restrict some oil trains to 40 mph in certain populous areas.

    But lowering the speed limit to 30 mph would harm “delivery capability” for BNSF’s oil customers, the railroad said in the document. To keep up with demand, it said, it would have to add an additional 11,280 tank cars to its crude oil fleet.

    In the other documents posted on OMB’s website:

    — A handout from CSX argues against requiring electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems, saying the technology is “expensive and only works if the entire train is equipped.” The company says the brakes would have “limited use and minimal safety impact.”

    As part of an existing voluntary agreement between the industry and DOT, railroads agreed to equip all trains pulling 20 or more carloads of crude oil with other types of advanced braking systems — either distributed power or two-way telemetry end-of-train devices.

    — And a final handout, whose authorship is unclear, argues against requiring that crude oil trains never be left unattended. It says “attending crude oil trains from origin to destination will increase congestion, require additional handling, and significantly drive up costs,” including $96 per hour for a two-person crew.

    It also says that “appropriate securement and security measures are already in place to ensure safe movement of crude oil shipments.”

      Important issues affecting Benicia to be heard tonight in Berkeley, Richmond

      Repost from The Contra Costa Times
      [Editor’s note: Please understand the significance here, involving the Union Pacific rail line THROUGH BENICIA and across the BENICIA BRIDGE.  Of course, this is also of great importance to our friends uprail in Sacramento, Davis, etc., and across the Carquinez Strait in Martinez, Crockett, and Rodeo and downrail through the East Bay, South Bay and beyond.  To attend tonight’s meetings in Berkeley and Richmond, see details at the end of this article.  – RS] [The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

      East Bay and South Bay passenger rail corridor proposed to move crude oil

      By Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times, 03/24/2014
      A man crosses the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Cutting Blvd. in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

      An Amtrak train passes over cars traveling on Macdonald Ave. as it departs the station in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, March 24, 2014. The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through more than a dozen East Bay and South Bay cities could become a rail superhighway for crude oil transports under a plan by Phillips 66.   (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

      BERKELEY — The tracks that carry Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains through about a dozen heavily populated East Bay and South Bay communities could become a rail superhighway for potentially explosive crude oil transports to Central California under a plan by the Phillips 66 oil company, Berkeley officials warn.

      A project at Phillips 66’s Santa Maria refinery would enable it to receive crude oil from North American sources that are served by rail, according to a draft environmental report under review by San Luis Obispo County.

      The report identifies the most likely source of the crude as the Bakken oil field that covers parts of North Dakota and Canada. Last July, a train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and nearly destroying the town.

      This latest project would add to a growing trend in California to receive imported oil over land via rail rather than by sea. The train cars filled with oil would roll through Sacramento, the East Bay and South Bay on Union Pacific tracks, switching to the UP’s Coast Line and on to Santa Maria, according to Berkeley officials who have analyzed the Santa Maria report.

      At its peak, the Santa Maria refinery would receive five trains a week, each just under 4,800 feet long with 80 tank cars, two buffer cars and three locomotives, according to the document.

      Bakken crude is light and less viscous than most other varieties of crude, including tar sands. Bakken crude has a lower flash point and is much more flammable.

      Phillips 66 did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails Monday. But in a comment in the Santa Maria report, the company wrote that the Santa Maria refinery “is not equipped to process more than nominal volumes of light, sweet crude such as that from the Bakken oil field.”

      Ellen Carroll, San Luis Obispo County’s planning manager and environmental coordinator, said in a phone call Monday that “Phillips 66 has indicated to us that they are looking in more detail into where they are actually going to be getting their crude from.”

      Carroll said her office is reviewing more than 800 comment letters and that no date has been set for the next hearing.

      The prospect of increased shipments of crude has provoked concerns among some residents who live near petroleum refineries, including Chevron in Richmond, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Shell and Tesoro Golden Eagle, both in the Martinez area, and Valero in Benicia.

      But the concerns were based on the notion that refineries would eventually receive crude oil by rail for their own operations, something that is already happening to a limited degree at Tesoro, according to industry sources. Now, the idea the Bay Area could be a transit route for crude oil headed elsewhere in California has spurred elected officials to action.

      On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will discuss a resolution opposing the transport of hazardous crude by rail along the Union Pacific railway through California and the East Bay.

      Teagan Clive, a Rodeo environmental activist, praised Berkeley officials for not sitting idly by.

      “(The resolution) lays the groundwork for communities to decide for themselves whether they want volatile crude coming through their towns,” she said.

      Also on Tuesday, the Richmond City Council will consider a resolution calling on the East Bay Congressional delegation to take steps to halt the movement of crude oil by rail in the nation until it is fully regulated.

      “We want to avoid at all costs a tragedy in Richmond in the face of so many tragedies around the country and in Canada from this crude-by-rail type of transport,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in an email Monday.

      South Bay officials reached Monday said they had not heard of the plans.

      Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, in an email Monday, said only that “routing for potential crude oil customers will be determined at a future time” and that “currently, we do not move any crude oil through the Bay Area.”

      The Santa Maria draft report does not refer specifically to the Capitol Corridor as part of a future transit route for the crude. It refers, however, to the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles and uses the same tracks as the Capitol Corridor trains between Sacramento and San Jose.

      The report analyzes some of the possible impacts on Coast Starlight schedules, but only from San Jose south.

      “Potential impacts to the Coast Starlight schedule could occur anywhere north of San Jose as well,” the report reads. “However, north of San Jose, through the Bay Area, there are areas of multiple mainline tracks and a large number of commuter trains. Therefore, it is unclear how much the crude oil unit train would overlap with the Coast Starlight. Given this uncertainty, the (report) has limited the analysis to the Coast Line.”

      Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio, who is co-sponsoring the draft resolution with Councilman Darryl Moore, characterized the lack of specific mention of the Capital Corridor in the Santa Maria report as “sleight of hand-like.”

      “If they want to rule it out, let’s hear it,” Maio said.

      Staff writers Robert Rogers and Eric Kurhi contributed to this report. Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.

      If you Go
      What: Berkeley City Council
      Where: City Council chamber, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
      When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

      What: Richmond City Council
      Where: Community Services Building, 440 Civic Center Plaza
      When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday