Rocklin Deputy Fire Chief reports on oil train hazards

Repost from the Roseville & Granite Press Tribune

Oil train wrecks across nation put Rocklin on alert

South Placer train yards at center of Valero’s proposal
By Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor, October 8, 2014
The train tracks that run between Rocklin and Roseville will be filled with nonstop oil trains if Vallero Refinery’s plan is approved. | Ike Dodson – The Placer Herald

The U.S. and Canada have together experienced seven sizable accidents in the last two years involving oil shipped across rail lines — and Rocklin leaders have no intention of seeing their city become the eighth location on the list as Valero moves forward with plans to push thousands of tanker-cars filled with “black gold” through the region.

Not without a plan, at least.

Two months ago, the Valero Refinery plant in Benicia, some 81 miles from Rocklin, submitted an Environmental Impact Report to California regulators for its Crude by Rail Project. Valero’s plan would bring individual train cars full of crude oil from Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan converging on the Union Pacific rail yard in Roseville, where they would be assembled into 50-car trains and then sent on to Benicia. According to the EIR, Valero hopes to send two of these 50-car convoys plugging through the older sections of South Placer County every day.

Since the release of Valero’s EIR, Rocklin Deputy Fire Chief Richard Holmes has been examining potential dangers for the city. In a recent staff report submitted to council members, Holmes noted that, between 2013 and 2014, seven American and Canadian cities have been forced to respond to serious accident involving crude oil, ethanol or similar petrochemicals being shipped across rails.

“The hazard identification of crude oil is ‘immediately hazardous’ with a highly flammable distinction,” Holmes wrote. “There have been many major accidents involving crude oil in North America … these events demonstrate that accidents can happen.”

Holmes added that Rocklin’s risks are likely softened by the fact its train tracks run only a few miles from Roseville’s Union Pacific yard, thus forcing any oil tankers heading northwest to depart on their way from one city to the other at “relatively slow” rates of speed.

However, even that rare bright spot in Holmes’ report may be of limited consolation to Rocklin city council members. In February, an oil train that crashed in Lynchburg, Virginia, was traveling at only 24 miles per hour, according to its ownership company, CSX. In that case, seven oil cars spilled into the environment — with three plunging directly into the James River.

The Lynchburg oil train wreck is in addition to the seven larger recent disasters Holmes mentioned in his analysis.

Rocklin Fire Department’s immediate conclusions in the face of Valero’s plans involve identifying the community’s specific risks if an oil train accident occurs, and then gearing training and preparedness for those exact scenarios. One asset the fire department currently already has is a foam tender with over 1,000 gallons of Class B foam. If the Valero EIR passes, obtaining more backup resources may be a topic the city council considers.

Rocklin City Public Information Officer Karen Garner said the recent staff report to leadership is, for the moment, an overview.

“The presentation was just about presenting the facts and current status of a topic that’s received a lot of attention lately,” Garner said this week. “No request for additional equipment or resources is being made at this time.”