Category Archives: Benicia-Martinez rail bridge

Railroad blames local company for derailment; handbrakes not set

Repost from the Contra Costa Times
[Editor: Significant quote: “‘…if they didn’t set those handbrakes before they decoupled those eight, they could start rolling. And that looks like what happened,’ said Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.”  – RS]

Union Pacific Blames Local Company for Martinez Train Derailment

By Ted Goldberg, January 28, 2016

Update, 3 p.m. Thursday: The company handling three tanker cars that derailed in Martinez last week failed to apply enough brakes, according to a report that Union Pacific filed with the Federal Railroad Administration.

When the firm, Eco Services, pulled eight cars into its plant near the Benicia Bridge last Wednesday, a dozen other cars they were separated from began rolling away and under Interstate 680.

“There’s handbrakes on the cars to keep the cars stationary, and if they didn’t set those handbrakes before they decoupled those eight, they could start rolling. And that looks like what happened,” said Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer. “It is a cause for concern.”

The Union Pacific report also found that the incident caused more than $13,000 in damage.

Eco Services, Union Pacific and the Federal Railroad Administration have yet to comment.

Original post: The California Public Utilities Commission has opened an investigation into the derailment of three tanker cars carrying oil-refining chemicals in Martinez last week.

The CPUC’s probe of the incident just south of the Benicia Bridge comes amid new disclosures that the company in charge of the train at the time lost control of a dozen cars carrying spent sulfuric acid just before the derailment.

And county officials say the local agency in charge of responding to hazardous material incidents was not notified about the derailment until two hours after the cars left the tracks.

The company that was handling the material was Eco Services. Union Pacific delivered 20 tanker cars to the firm’s plant in Martinez on Jan. 19.

Early the next morning Eco Services workers began moving eight of the cars into its processing facility, according to a company incident report filed with county officials this week.

“As soon as the separation took place, the remaining 12 cars started rolling southward and down gradient toward Marina Vista Ave[nue],” wrote Anthony Koo, a senior environmental engineer at Eco Services.

The fact that a dozen rail cars carrying chemicals were briefly out of control near a busy freeway, Interstate 680, and one of the region’s major bridges prompted concern from the county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, Randy Sawyer.

The tanker cars “were moving when they weren’t supposed to be moving,” Sawyer said in an interview. “I would think they would have some kind of braking system that would keep them from doing that.”

According to the report, the three cars that left the tracks first passed under the I-680 overpass before hitting a derail device just west of the structure.

Sawyer said that device is a safety feature designed to prevent rail cars from entering a main track and colliding with a moving train. That safety system worked. No chemicals leaked from the three derailed cars, and no one was injured.

Sawyer also expressed concern about the delay in notifying his agency — a process that took nearly two hours.

“We would expect notification sooner,” he said.

According to the Eco Services report, the derailment occurred at 6:45 a.m. on Jan. 20. The company says it notified Union Pacific 17 minutes later.

Sawyer said the rail company then contacted the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, which then sent the county an email about the incident at 8:33 a.m.

Eco Services said it made a “courtesy call” to the hazardous materials program just over an hour after that.

The delayed notification was most likely because no hazardous materials spilled, but “they did not notify us as quickly as we would have wished,” Sawyer said.

The CPUC, meanwhile, is looking into whether Eco Services or Union Pacific were following state regulations at the time of the derailment, that agency’s spokeswoman, Constance Gordon, said in an email.

Eco Services has not returned calls for comment.

A Union Pacific spokesman says the company will cooperate with the CPUC in its investigation.

Benicia Herald: Train carrying hazardous materials derails in Martinez

Repost from Nick Sestanovich’s Benicia Herald Archive
[Editor:  See also coverage in the CCTimes: Martinez: Train derailment near Benicia Bridge rekindles safety fears along East Bay’s refinery belt.  Also see KTVU News and video coverage on KRON 4 News.  – RS]

Train carrying hazardous materials derails in Martinez

By Nick Sestanovich, January 24, 2016

Martinez train derailment 2016-01-20A train carrying sulfuric acid derailed in Martinez Wednesday morning near the Benicia Bridge. No leaks have been reported, although the incident has caused some concerns in Benicia as the Planning Commission plans to hold a hearing on Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail project in two weeks.

A Union Pacific Railroad train was carrying the hazardous materials to sulfuric acid regeneration provider Eco Services in Martinez at 8 a.m. when three tanker cars were derailed along Mococo Road. It is unknown what caused the derailment.

The acid contained contaminated hydrocarbon, but no leaks were reported and no vapors were released.

As with other train derailments and explosions, this has caused concerns in the refinery-heavy regions of the Bay Area, especially in Benicia where the Planning Commission is going to hold a meeting on Feb. 8 to consider a use permit for the crude-by-rail project.

Valero announced the project, which would extend three Union Pacific Tracks onto its property to deliver up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil a day, in 2013 and was quickly met with backlash over its potential environmental effects. Adding fire to these concerns was an oil train explosion in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed more than 30 buildings in July of that year. Since then, oil train explosions in Casselton, N.D., and Lynchburg Va., are just a few of the similar incidents that have gotten widespread publicity.

The sentiments of Benicia have been echoed in other communities. In Pittsburg, the energy company WesPac Midstream LLC had proposed a project to convert a Pacific Gas & Electric tank farm into an oil storage facility which would have delivers from five 104-car oil trains a week. The project was struck down in December.

When reached for comment, Valero Public Affairs Manager Sue Fisher Jones said the Martinez derailment had no bearing on the city.

“The incident in Martinez is not related to, nor does it have any impact on, our operations in Benicia,” she said.

However, other residents like Roger Straw, who runs the anti-crude by rail blog The Benicia Independent, disagree.

“The derailment in Martinez involved tank cars full of poisonous sulfuric acid, rolling downhill unattended, just like the runaway train in Quebec that killed 47 people and leveled a downtown,” Straw said. “What does that have to do with crude by rail? Everything. Rail cars have carried hazardous materials for years, and the risk to our communities is already great. If we add to that risk two more 50-car trains every day full of toxic and volatile Bakken crude oil and/or impossibly heavy diluted tar-sands crude, two trains coming in and two more going out every day, we greatly increase the potential for a major loss in our own community and in those communities and wild spaces uprail from here.”

“This accident at Benicia’s front door is a wake up call,” he added.

The Planning Commission meeting will be held 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 8, at the City Hall Council Chambers, located at 250 East L St.

Train Cars Full of Sulfuric Acid Derail Under I-680 / Benicia Bridge In Martinez

Repost from the Contra Costa Times
[Editor: The updated story below includes quotes by Andrés Soto, of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community and the NRDC’s staff attorney, Jackie Prange.  This derailment in Benicia’s front yard was a close call, a threat to a major Bay Area traffic artery and to our neighbors in Martinez.  The accident stands as an important reminder of the catastrophic dangers involved in rail transport of hazardous materials.  Stop crude by rail!  Stop oil trains!  – RS]

Martinez: Train derailment near Benicia Bridge rekindles safety fears along East Bay’s refinery belt

By Nate Gartrell and David DeBolt, 01/20/2016, UPDATED 19:30PM
Tanker cars lay on their sides after derailing in Martinez early Wednesday.  (Nate Gartrell/Bay Area News Group)
Tanker cars lay on their sides after derailing in Martinez early Wednesday. (Nate Gartrell/Bay Area News Group)

MARTINEZ — Three tank cars carrying a hazardous liquid derailed Wednesday morning on train tracks under the Benicia Bridge, and although there were no reports of leaks, the incident rekindled fears about the potential dangers of derailments along the East Bay’s industrial and refinery belt.

“Thank God there were no leaks. We may have dodged a bullet here, but it does bring up that discussion again about hazardous materials,” Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said.

Cities throughout the Bay Area have expressed concern over the past year about the possibility of derailments and explosions in their communities, particularly in light of growing shipments of crude by rail nationally and several high-profile derailments in North America. The East Bay is laced by five oil refineries, all located near dense population centers.

Wednesday’s derailment involving rail cars carrying sulfuric acid happened at about 8 a.m. along Mococo Road, across the tracks from Marina Vista Avenue, as the train was headed to Eco Services in Martinez, said Matt Kaufmann, assistant director of hazardous materials for Contra Costa County.

The sulfuric acid contained contaminated hydrocarbon, but none of the materials spilled, Kaufmann said.

Union Pacific Railroad also took air samples and found no vapors were released from the trains, according to Francisco Castillo, the railroad’s director of public affairs.

“Sulfuric acid is highly dangerous and toxic,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, who also sits on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board. “Had there been a leak, it would have been worse. That’s why I call it a near miss.”

Union Pacific workers delivered the shipment of 20 rail cars on Monday evening from its tracks to an industry line used by Eco Services, officials said.

It is unclear what caused the derailment and where the train began its journey to Eco Services, which frequently receives similar shipments from nearby refineries.

The company removes hydrocarbon from sulfuric acid that occurs during the refining process, Kaufman said. Shell Oil and Tesoro each have refineries within a mile of the company.

By 9:30 a.m., Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials crews were on scene, along with scores of Union Pacific employees, but the cars remained derailed, including one that was tilted all the way on its side. Officials were waiting for a crane to arrive to move the tank cars back onto the tracks.

Between January 2012 and October 2015, 4,321 train derailments — more than three per day on average — were reported in the United States, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.

This incident also raises the issue of local control over railroad activities; cities such as Martinez “have absolutely no control over the rail lines or what is shipped through our communities,” Schroder said. In the East Bay’s case, Schroder said, U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa, and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, have been “very proactive” in dealing with railroad safety issues.

Although the tankers weren’t carrying crude oil, anti-crude-by-rail activists around the Bay Area say this incident is a reminder of the potential dangers in transporting explosive materials by train.

“These kind of derailments are an example that our community and all the up-rail communities would be in grave danger if crude-by-rail projects are approved,” said Andres Soto of the environmental group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community. “We’re so glad that (the WesPac oil terminal project) was taken off the table in Pittsburg recently. … These trains go under bridges, and if there was an explosion, the volatility involved could destroy those bridges. It’s a regional issue.”

In recent years, several proposed crude-by-rail projects have sparked contentious debates around the Bay Area and nationally. Some of these concerns started after a July 2013 disaster in Canada, when a train carrying more than 70 crude oil cars derailed, causing a massive explosion in a Quebec town that killed 47 people and ultimately cost the Canadian Pacific railroad company nearly $450 million in a legal settlement with the victims’ families.

Last year, anti-crude-by-rail activists in Pittsburg celebrated when the WesPac oil terminal project, which originally envisioned unloading as many as five 104-car oil trainloads a week, was taken off the table. In Benicia, a similar controversy surrounds a Valero proposal to deliver crude by rail to its refinery there. Residents opposed to the project are planning to voice their opposition at a Feb. 8 Benicia Planning Commission meeting, Soto said.

Currently, tank cars used to transport crude oil can puncture from impacts of less than 10 miles per hour, although the U.S. Department of Transportation is in the process of adopting more stringent standards for such cars, according to Jackie Prange, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The concern is that had this been a crude oil train, it’s much more likely that the tank cars would have punctured,” Prange said.

Check back for further updates.

Arrests in Martinez as Californians demonstrate against oil trains

Repost from Bay Area Indymedia
[This belated report has nothing new on the arrests on our bridge, but it shows some good pics of the Stop Oil Trains protest in San Jose.  – RS]

Arrests in Martinez as Californians demonstrate against oil trains

By R. Robertson , Jul 14th, 2015 6:22 PM
Police arrested four Bay Area protesters after they suspended themselves from the Benicia-Martinez railroad bridge to hang a banner protesting oil trains. Photos here are of the protest in San Jose, California. Both protests were part of a week of action against oil trains.
Police arrested four Bay Area protesters after they suspended themselves from the Benicia-Martinez railroad bridge to hang a banner protesting oil trains last week.
800_350sanjosebeststn.jpg original image ( 3264x2448)

Elsewhere in California, Raging Grannies in Davis and San Jose enlivened protests there singing out, ”No more exploding trains”.

Oil trains go through almost every US state, disproportionately over poorer American communities. The crude oil moving by train is more toxic, explosive, and carbon intensive than conventional oil. It puts millions of Americans and Canadians at risk. Last week there were more than 80 protests and educational events in North America about this danger.

The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster happened July 6, 2013, when a freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil rolled downhill and derailed, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-seven people died and many others injured. Last week’s events were timed to coincide with the anniversary of that catastrophe.