Tag Archives: California Senator Dianne Feinstein

California bridge inspectors getting started – will visit only 30 of 5,000 bridges in 2015

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Editorial: California makes progress on train safety by inspecting railroad bridges

By the Editorial Board, Oct. 9, 2014
Emergency responders learn about the different types of railroad tank cars in a safety class last week at a CSX yard in Richmond, Va. CSX uses its “safety train” to train first responders in communities where it hauls large volumes of crude oil. Curtis Tate / McClatchy-Tribune

It’s encouraging that important steps are being taken to make sure oil trains rumbling through California don’t derail, but the job isn’t nearly done yet.

For the first time, the California Public Utilities Commission plans to check behind safety inspections by private railroad companies of rail bridges across the state, focusing on those traversed by trains carrying crude oil.

The commission is deploying two new bridge inspectors – among seven new rail inspectors hired with money allocated by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature in response to rising concerns about more oil trains in California. The two inspectors will likely work as a team, visiting four bridges a week. They won’t be doing full inspections, but rather reviewing that the railroads’ safety checks are in proper order.

At that rate, it would take 50 years to check all 5,000 rail bridges, as The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak reported this week. That obviously isn’t fast enough.

So the commission is compiling a priority list of the first 30 bridges for visits in 2015. Here are two possible ones that should be strongly considered: the heavily used, 103-year-old I Street Bridge in downtown Sacramento and the Clear Creek Trestle in Feather River Canyon. Both are expected to be on primary routes for oil trains.

It’s also significant that state and local officials are pushing for a more complete risk assessment of Valero’s proposal to run oil trains through Northern California to its Benicia refinery.

Late last month, the utilities commission and the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response joined the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the cities of Davis and Sacramento in raising concerns that the city of Benicia’s draft environmental impact report underestimated the potential of explosion and fire from two 50-car trains going daily through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities. Attorney General Kamala Harris has jumped on the bandwagon, too.

For one thing, state officials say they want more detail on how Benicia officials came up with a projection that a train derailment would spill 100 gallons or more of oil only once every 111 years along the 69 miles of track between Roseville and Benicia.

At the same time, California’s two U.S. senators are pressing federal transportation officials to expand their requirements for railroads to notify first responders of oil shipments. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency order, issued in May, covers only shipments of at least 1 million gallons (about 35 rail cars) of crude from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota.

Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein say that notification ought to be required for any quantity of Bakken, or any kind of crude oil or other flammable liquid, for that matter.

They’re right. If safety is the goal, there’s no logical reason that smaller shipments and other kinds of crude aren’t covered. The notification mandate is among proposed rules on oil trains that federal officials plan to impose by year’s end. They also include phasing out older rail cars, lower speed limits and more comprehensive response plans for spills.

Those federal regulations will become even more crucial if California’s two major railroad companies – BNSF and Union Pacific – win their federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that challenges a new state law requiring them to come up with oil spill prevention and response plans. The companies argue that federal law prevents states from imposing such safety rules.

This is often how important safety improvements get made – step by step, at different levels of government, with advocates having to keep pushing for stronger protections against industry resistance. Everyone involved should have one priority – putting public safety first and foremost.

Oregon & California Senators ask for more oil train notifications

Repost from The Seattle Times
[Editor: Significant quote: “The four senators are…asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.”  – RS]

Senators ask for more oil train notifications

By Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press, September 30, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. — Four West Coast senators are asking the federal government to expand a recent order for railroads to notify state emergency responders of crude oil shipments.

The letter, sent Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, says railroads should supply states with advanced notification of all high-hazard flammable liquid transports — including crude from outside the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as ethanol and 71 other liquids.

The letter was signed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

In May, Foxx ordered railroads operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil — or about 35 tank cars — to inform states that the trains traverse. The order came in the wake of repeated oil train derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

The West Coast has received unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments in recent years. More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining or loading facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington, with another two dozen new projects or expansions in the works in the three states.

But according to the California Energy Commission, oil from the Bakken region accounted just for a fourth of crude-by-rail deliveries to California since 2012. Canadian oil — which travels to California through Washington and Oregon, as well as through Idaho and Montana — accounted for as much as 76 percent of California oil deliveries, the senators wrote.

Non-Bakken oil is also delivered to refineries and loading facilities in Oregon and Washington — including a terminal in Portland. A controversial proposed terminal in Vancouver, Washington, would also receive some non-Bakken crude.

Wyden and Merkley in June similarly urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart wrote the two senators that month saying all crude shipments are flammable and a risk to communities and the environment — not just the Bakken oil.

The four senators are now repeating the same demand and are also asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.

The Association of American Railroads has said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order and the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.