Category Archives: Feather River Canyon

Senator calls on Jerry Brown to halt crude oil trains in ‘treacherous’ California mountain passes

Repost from the Sacramento Bee
[Editor: See also KQED News: Call for Suspension of Crude-by-Rail Shipments After Feather River Derailment (including an embedded copy of Senator Hill’s letter).  – RS]

Senator calls on Jerry Brown to halt crude oil trains in ‘treacherous’ California mountain passes

By Tony Bizjak, 12/02/2014
A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way west through James, Ca., just outside of the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley on June 5, 2014.
A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way west through James, Ca., just outside of the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley on June 5, 2014. JAKE MIILLE SPECIAL TO THE BEE

Sen. Jerry Hill on Tuesday called on Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the transport of crude oil on trains and other hazardous materials “through our most treacherous passes.”

The request by Hill, D-San Mateo, comes in reaction to a corn train derailment last week in the Feather River Canyon that sent train cars and corn spilling down an embankment into the river. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

The Feather River route through Plumas and Butte counties is used by at least one train a week carrying up to 2.9 million gallons of highly flammable Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. More crude oil trains are expected to be coming into the state in the next few years, most of them traversing mountains passes deemed “high-risk” for derailments by the state Public Utilities Commission. State officials have said they do not believe California is ready to deal with the consequences of a major oil spill and fire.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the state of California,” Hill wrote in a letter to the governor. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination” in Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir, a source of drinking water for millions in the state.

Other “high-risk” derailment sections in Northern California include UP lines outside of Dunsmuir and Colfax.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said the state cannot stop interstate commerce, but said the state needs to continue to work with the railroads to assure safer shipments. “These trains are going to come through,” he said. “We need to work together with the industry to put every safety precaution possible in place.”

Several environmental groups filed a petition Tuesday in San Francisco federal court seeking to force the federal government to ban older railroad cars – DOT-111s built before 2011 – from transporting crude oil. The U.S. Department of Transportation last month rejected the groups’ demand. DOT says it’s developing new guidelines that will phase out the older cars.

Chico editorial: Train derailment in canyon a cautionary tale

Repost from Chico Enterprise-Record

Editorial: Train derailment in canyon a cautionary tale


When a train derailed in the Feather River Canyon above Belden on Tuesday and dropped tons of corn in the river, it was natural to chuckle uneasily that it was only corn.

Nobody was injured, no animals died, the river’s ecosystem will recover and Union Pacific, while on the hook for a difficult cleanup operation in a steep area, talked largely about how the company was fortunate — because it knows it could have been a whole lot worse.

What should be worrisome to the rest of us is that only Union Pacific seems to know how bad things could get — and Union Pacific isn’t sharing, apparently not even with government officials.

With a surge in crude oil pumped from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana and not enough pipelines to move it across the United States, oil companies have taken to moving the explosive type of oil on railroads. Union Pacific is undoubtedly being compensated handsomely to do so. But moving it from east to west means coming through the picturesque Feather River Canyon, along Highway 70 above Lake Oroville.

Oroville residents have noticed an alarming increase in the number of oil trains, with their black tanker cars, coming through town, headed south. But nobody knows how many trains. The railroad keeps that information close to the vest. Still, the Butte and Plumas county offices of emergency services should know, just in case it has to respond to a derailment, which likely would be accompanied by an explosion. One would think …

But Plumas County’s director of emergency services, Jerry Sipe, says Union Pacific hasn’t advised the county of when or how often the trains come through. Sipe said he’d like the rail companies to provide training and equipment needed to respond to oil train derailments.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, when asked by a reporter about the frequency of oil trains, answered in an email.

“For safety and commercial-competitive reasons,” he wrote, “Union Pacific provides specific commodity route information for its trains only to appropriate response agencies. We cannot address what commodities may travel on other railroads. This route is one where oil may be transported based upon the needs of our customers.”

Well, we think those who live along the route and those who might be asked to respond to a disaster deserve better answers. Local lawmakers from Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, to Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, should intervene to demand more transparency.

Nobody should wait until after the first explosion of an oil train to say, “We need to do something about this.” The best time to act is now.

Though Union Pacific’s Hunt points out repeatedly that UP has reduced derailments by 23 percent in the past 10 years, the fact is that trains still derail, and all it takes is one. An explosion would be disastrous. An oil spill in the river system would be as well.

The Feather River Canyon is a treacherous stretch of track, with curves, rock slides and erosion all factors that can contribute to derailments. The fact that UP says it doesn’t know what caused last week’s derailment means, so far anyway, it will be less likely to prevent them in the immediate future.

Let’s get out in front of this problem. As other states have learned, explosions are an increasing possibility. We like first responders to be prepared, not left in the dark.

State ‘Dodged a Bullet’ in Feather River Derailment, OES Says

Repost from Fox40 TV Sacramento
[Editor: As my friend said, “THIS is the problem….”  – RS]

State ‘Dodged a Bullet’ in Feather River Derailment, OES Says

November 26, 2014, by Lonnie Wong

Union Pacific work crews continue to clear a 12-car derailment that dumped a shipment of corn into the Feather River.

The Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River is a major route for bulk goods into and out of California.  While the track has been cleared, train traffic is being held back periodically while the delicate clean-up process moves forward.That includes vacuuming corn from the cars before their removal, and installing barriers to keep more grain from getting into the feather river.

At the same time, investigators want to know why the cars left the track.

That’s because corn isn’t the only freight that is hauled through the scenic canyon.

“In this particular case, we dodged a bullet,” California Office of Emergency Services Communications Director Kelly Huston said.

OES says two oil trains carry volatile Bakken crude oil through the Feather River canyon each week  a million gallons at a time.

It’s the same crude oil that has exploded into flames and polluted rivers in several train derailments over the past year and a half.

“As the train travels through the Feather River it eventually ends up in downtown Sacramento and into Stockton and into the bay area and it’s traveling through a lot of high population centers,” Huston said. “As it gets into high population areas it could also pose a threat if there’s a fire and explosion.”

Union Pacific also wants to find out what happened to prevent another derailment.

It says it’s spent $30 billion in the last decade on new technologies to reduce derailments by 23 percent. It also says it adheres to strict federal safety standards.

“We operate all our trains under federal regulations we are required to do so, and that includes for all commodities that we move on the system,” Liisa Stark, with Union Pacific Public Affairs office, told FOX40.

But critics say federal regulations have not caught up with the emerging danger of Bakken crude derailments.

Katie Payne was heading to a family gathering in Porterville where she grew up and stopped with her husband and two sons to look at the wreckage.  Her brother works for the railroad in the area.

“It does concern me. They do have issues with rock slides and train problems so if it’s dangerous chemicals or crude oil that could really destroy this wild and scenic Feather River,” Payne said.

Not to mention that it is a major water supply and hydro-electric source for valley residents.

The fact is rail accidents happen despite anyone’s best intentions, which is a worry as the number of Bakken crude shipments increase.

”We’re not taking the right precautions, we’re not keeping the public safe,” Payne said.

LATEST DERAILMENT: Feather River Canyon, California

Repost from Action News Now, Chico, CA
[Editor: See also KRCR News, News10 Sacramento (excellent photos), KCRA Sacramento, and Chico Enterprise-Record.  – RS]

Train derailment in Feather River Canyon

By News staff, 11/25/2014

A Union Pacific train traveling through the Feather River Canyon Tuesday morning has derailed, officials confirmed.

According to the Office of Environmental Health, the train derailed around 3:00 a.m. near Virgilia in Plumas County across from Highway 70 mile marker 19.

The train was carrying corn grain. Officials say 11 cars derailed and slid down a large embankment, a significant amount of corn grain is in the river, but all the cars are on land.

No injuries have been reported and officials with the OES, Fish and Wildlife, and Union Pacific are on the scene conducting an investigation. The cause of the incident is unknown at this time.

Train traffic through the area is being routed around the canyon and Union Pacific officials say they do not have estimated time the derailment will be cleared.