Tag Archives: Union Pacific Railroad

Protesters Rally in Sacramento Against Crude Oil Trains

Repost from Fox 40, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto

Protesters Rally in Sacramento Against Crude Oil Trains


SACRAMENTO — Three years ago Wednesday, 47 people were killed when a train carrying crude oil derailed in a small town in Quebec, Canada. On this tragic anniversary, dozens in Sacramento rallied to protest against oil trains traveling through Northern California.

A group of activists, the Sacramento Oil Trains Coalition, is concerned about the new type of oil that is now traveling the lines.

“We’re talking about bringing in this Bakken crude or the Canadian tar sands, it’s very volatile explosive crude oil, we don’t need that here in Sacramento,” said Chris Brown, the organizer of Wednesday’s event.

It’s the same type of oil that exploded during a derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people July 6, 2013. Members of the Sacramento Oil Trains Coalition read the names of the victims at Wednesday’s protest.

“I was very surprised that this was happening in my own backyard,” said protester Valerie Williams who lives in South Sacramento.

The last several years, Union Pacific said crude oil has been passing by Sacramento, heading south to a transfer station outside Bakersfield and also heading west to refineries in Richmond. And the Valero Refining company has applied to run two trains daily through Sacramento to its plant in Benicia. There the city planning commission voted down Valero’s request in February, but the refinery has appealed the decision.

“We don’t need this particular kind of crude with all of its hazards added to what we already have, we need to be figuring out how to get rid of what we have, not add more to it,” Brown said.

Despite its recent derailment in Oregon, Union Pacific said its record speaks for itself.

“Our safety and statistics specifically with crude oil has a 99.9% of the time making it from its origination to its destination without incident,” said Justin Jacobs, a spokesperson for Union Pacific.

Jacobs said his company cannot release the exact amount of crude oil it transports through Sacramento.

“As far as train schedules, and what’s on it, and those type of things, yeah, for security reasons, we don’t release specific information,” Jacobs said.

Valero has said in the past that their carbon footprint is actually larger now transporting that crude oil by tanker over sea than it would be by train over land.

Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

Repost from KATU.COM

Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

By Donna Gordon Blankinship, Associateed Press, June 5, 2016
Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo).png
Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo)

MOSIER, Ore. — Officials now say a track failure was likely the cause of the oil train derailment and explosion in the Columbia River Gorge Friday.

A failure of the fastener between the railroad tie and the line was likely the problem, but more investigation will be required before railroad officials know for sure, Raquel Espinoza with Union Pacific said Sunday.

Union Pacific inspects the tracks that run through Mosier twice a week, and the most recent inspection took place on May 31, Espinoza said. Union Pacific had completed a more detailed and technical inspection of this section of track at the end of April and found no problems.

The railroad is focused on removing the crude oil from the damaged cars as safely and quickly as possible, Espinoza said. Its priority is to bring people home safe to Mosier, where 16 of 96 tank cars train derailed Friday and started a fire in four of the cars.

“We’re doing everything we can to get you back home, but we’re not going to risk your safety,” Espinoza said at a news conference. When asked if she knew how much the cleanup was going to cost the company, Espinoza said, “I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.”

“Our priority here is bringing people home. Nothing else matters,” she added. Repairs to a water treatment system, which runs under the tracks, would need to be completed before people could return to their homes, the railroad said.

About a hundred people – a quarter of the town’s population – have been evacuated from their homes since Friday in an area about a quarter mile around the train.

Mosier’s mayor and fire chief said Sunday the derailment and fire in their town could have been a lot worse.

Fire Chief Jim Appleton says the usual amount of wind in Mosier – about 25 mph – could have turned this incident into a major disaster, destroying the town and sending flames across state lines.

“My attention was focused on the incident that didn’t happen,” Appleton said. “It probably would have burned its way close to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s how big it would have been.”

Mayor Arlene Burns said the people of Mosier were “incredibly lucky.”

“I count myself lucky that we dodged a bullet,” Burns said, after noting that her own child was at school within a few blocks of the derailment. “We hope that this is a wake-up call.”

The fire and derailment damaged essential city services in the small Oregon town, authorities said Sunday.

The Mosier waste water treatment plant and sewer system were not operational Sunday. Residents were told not to flush their toilets and advised to boil any water before they drank it or cooked with it. Mosier exhausted its water reserves fighting the fire and cooling the trains. Burns said the aquifers were completely depleted.

Officials have been conducting continuous water and air monitoring since plumes of black smoke filled the sky near the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

“Today’s priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible,” incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.

Authorities were working to clean up an oil sheen in the Columbia River near the scene of the derailment, while the oil inside the remaining tank cars was being moved to trucks.

No injuries have been reported. But Oregon health officials are asking people with questions or concerns to call a hotline to talk to a health expert at 888-623-3120.

Including Friday’s incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of accident records from the two countries. The worst was a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Damage from that accident has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

Evacuated residents needing assistance should contact the Union Pacific Claim Center located across from the Mosier Market or call the claim center at 877-877-2567, option 6.

A health hotline has been set up at 888-623-3120. A boil water order remains in effect for the Mosier community.

Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB

Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

By Amelia Templeton, June 4, 2016 4:39 p.m. | Updated: June 5, 2016 9:04 a.m.
Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday.
Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday. Amelia Templeton/OPB

Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

He’s changed his mind.

After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

“I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” he said. “I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

Federal regulators say oil from the Bakken region is more flammable and more dangerous, than other types of crude. It’s been involved in a string of rail disasters, including a tragedy that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

OPB Groups join forcesShipments through the Columbia River Gorge have dramatically increased in recent years and oil companies have proposed building the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country 70 miles downstream from Mosier, at the the Port of Vancouver.

Emergency responders in communities along rail lines in the Northwest have struggled to prepare for a possible disaster. Much of the focus has been on stockpiling critical equipment needed to fight oil spills and fires, including a special type of fire suppression foam.

But Appleton said that foam was of relatively little use for the first 10 hours after the spill in Mosier. It couldn’t be directly applied to the main rail car that was on fire.

“The rationale that was explained to me by the Union Pacific fire personnel is that the metal is too hot, and the foam will land on the white-hot metal and evaporate without any suppression effect,” he said. “That was kind of an eye-opener for me.”

Appleton said crews spent 8 to 10 hours cooling down the adjacent rail cars with water before the final burning car was cool enough to be extinguished using the firefighting foam. Fire tending trucks drew water from the Columbia River using a nearby orchard supply line, and applied roughly 1,500 gallons of water per minute to the white-hot rail cars.

Other first responders described a chaotic scene, and difficulty getting to the site of the accident due to a massive snarl of traffic on Interstate 84.

“It looked like the apocalypse,” said Elizabeth Sanchey, the Yakima Nation’s environmental manager and the head of its hazmat crew. “You get into town, and there is just exhausted firefighters everywhere you look. It was quite scary.”

Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior.
Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior. Amelia Templeton/OPB

No lives were lost in the fire, and reports so far of property damage have been minimal, but an oil slick has appeared in the Columbia River, and officials said they haven’t determined for sure how oil is reaching the water. Yellow oil containment booms were stretched across the river to contain the oil.

Sanchey and several other Yakama Nation first responders were monitoring the containment effort through binoculars from a nearby overpass.

“It’s unknown how much oil is in the river, but it is in containment now, and we believe it to be relatively safe,” she said. “We currently have a sockeye run that is just starting, and lamprey live in the sediment, so that’s definitely a concern. We have endangered species at risk.”

Jim Appleton said Friday was a horrible day for his town, and he feels like he narrowly avoided a catastrophe.

“If the same derailment had happened just 24 hours earlier, there would have been 35 mph gusts blowing the length of the train,” he said. “The fire very easily could have spread to some or all of the 96 cars behind, because they were in the line of the prevailing wind. That would have been the catastrophe.”

Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend.
Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend. Emily Schwing/OPB

In a press conference Saturday, the Union Pacific Railroad apologized for the incident.

“We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest Region,” said spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza.

Espinoza said the railroad company will pay for the cost of fighting the fire. She said it has to wait for the area to cool down before it can extract the cars that remain and remove them by flatbed truck.

The company said crude oil represents less than 1 percent of its cargo, and said it has trained more than 2,300 emergency responders across Oregon since 2010.

Union Pacific set up information and health hotlines for Mosier residents. The information hotline number is 1-877-877-2567. The health hotline number is 1-888-633-3120.

Martinez News-Gazette: Hotly contested Valero crude-by-rail application denied by Benicia Commissioners

Repost from the Martinez News-Gazette

Hotly contested Valero crude-by-rail application denied by Benicia Commissioners

By Joseph Bustos, February 21, 2016Martinez News-Gazette

The Benicia Planning Commission rejected a permit application by the Valero Benicia Refinery on Thursday night that would have allowed the refinery to haul upwards of 70,000 barrels of crude oil on two 50 car trains along Union Pacific railroad tracks throughout various Bay Area cities.

Anticipating a large amount of speakers, Benicia’s Planning Commission fielded more than 70 comments from the public across four days of late night public hearings, beginning on February 8th and finally concluding on February 11th.

Against staff recommendation to approve the use permit and certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report, the Commission unanimously voted to reject the project application and did not certify the project’s environmental impact report.

The Commission cited that the project holds highly negative impacts to traffic in the industrial park and economic impacts to adjacent businesses that stand against city health, safety, and quality of life. They also cited the lack of provisions for clean-up costs in case of accidents in Benicia and other cities, creating potential economic strain on Benicia as well as uprail cities.

Other large concerns were the possibilities for rail cars to fall into Sulphur Springs Creek and the bay, as well as technology surrounding rail safety, increases in the cost of insurance coverage for the community, liability risk for property damage, and the construction of the unloading rack in Benicia causing significant traffic and emergency access issues.

The Planning Commission called all of these concerns directly contrary to the city’s general plan, and citied a responsibility to act for the other uprail communities that would be at risk.

Texas-based Valero Energy expressed disappointment with the decision, and are currently looking into a possible appeal. The company has until February 29 to file an appeal to the Benicia City Council.

The controversial proposal first took root in late 2012 and has seen a vast array of detractors from multiple environmental groups and cities through which the railways pass through, citing rail and environmental safety concerns.

Comments continued to pour in by a number of groups all week, demanding that the commission reject Valero’s proposed rail project. Barring action from the City Council, the decision would be a major win for environmental groups lobbying for rejection for the last three years.

In contrast, Valero officials and supporters claimed the installation of an oil by rail program would make the refinery far more flexible and competitive, strengthening Benicia’s economy with more than $350,000 in tax revenue and providing additional jobs. The refinery currently receives crude oil by ship and pipeline, and the proposed rail would have been an additional source of oil transportation rather than completely replacing the other methods.

Valero is currently the largest private employer for the city of Benicia, and constitutes more than 20 percent of Benicia’s general fund revenue.

Tamhas Griffith of the Martinez Environmental Group praised the decision of the Planning Commission and thanked them for listening to concerns of Bay Area communities.

“The Martinez Environmental Group is grateful for the exemplary work of the Benicia Planning Commissioners. In service to their community, each commissioner went above and beyond expectation to render a fair, compassionate, and unanimous judgement that people are more important than company profits,” expressed Griffith.

Griffith added that the denial of the application shows care and concern for communities through which refineries operate and travel through. “It was a hopeful decision for refinery corridor communities who absorb the brunt of daily massive pollution and constant danger.”

Just a few short weeks ago, Martinez was host to a rail incident that saw three tankers carry sulfuric acid derailed near Marina Vista Avenue under the I-680 overpass. Although the tankers fortunately did not leak, the accident again yielded concerns regarding rail safety and monitoring what hazardous materials pass through the city.