Berkeley Vice Mayor: more crude oil trains to cross Benicia Bridge enroute to Southern California

[The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

Several times over recent months, I have been urged to pay attention to a Santa Maria Refinery rail project in San Luis Obispo County.  Phillips 66 wants to import Bakken and tar-sands crude oil into their Santa Maria Refinery on trains with up to 80 tank cars per day.  Community activists there are organizing to oppose that project just as we are here in Benicia.  Until now, I have resisted paying much attention to their efforts.  I have been intentionally Valero-Benicia-focused, given my limited time and resources.

But I was very interested to learn today that Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio has crafted a resolution for the Berkeley City Council “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley.”  Vice Mayor Maio acknowledges that local regulation will not be easy: “Mitigating the impacts of transporting crude and other commodities by rail has been a challenge, as the railroads claim they are subject to federal law but not to California law.  They are asserting federal pre-emption and arguing that other agencies have no authority to mitigate the impacts.  However, this is not correct.  Every permitting agency — cities, counties, and air districts — has the authority to deny land use and other permits if the applicant refuses to mitigate impacts.”  She goes on to offer a number of steps the Berkeley Council can take, including the resolution mentioned above.

An impressive effort.  We should take similar action here in Benicia.

Downloading the Maio/Berkeley materials, I noticed maps and text describing Union Pacific tank cars traveling along the Capitol Corridor and right through Benicia to Berkeley and beyond: “The crude oil trains would enter northern California via Donner Pass, through Auburn, Rocklin, and Roseville, proceed along the Sacramento River through Sacramento and Davis to Benicia and along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland.  From Oakland the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San José, Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast into San Luis Obispo County.  The same tracks are used by Amtrak for passenger transport.”  (see p. 2 of 8)

Capitol Corridor Route MapI really hope Vice Mayor Maio is NOT right about the route of these trains – in a brief search, I could not verify the route on the San Luis Obispo County website.  I am not certain, but it seems there might also be routes that pass southward through Stockton and then westward to Pittsburg and beyond, avoiding the Suisun Marsh and the Benicia Bridge.  But if Maio is right, Benicia is not only preparing for Valero’s 100 cars/day to stop and unload, but another 80 cars/day that would pass right through and over the Benicia Bridge, along the Carquinez Strait to the East Bay and beyond.  This is game-changing and highly significant to those of us who are primarily Benicia-focused.  The cumulative impacts of the crude by rail boom will be huge and many-faceted if we don’t band together statewide.

Stay tuned.  I’ll keep you informed if I can get clear on the route the Santa Maria trains will travel.

Roger Straw
Editor, The Benicia Independent