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Congressman Mike Thompson

Representing the 5th District of CALIFORNIA

Benicia Herald - U.S. reps.: Make crude shipments safer

Jul 2, 2014
News Articles
Thompson, others call for new regulations to prevent accidents

By Donna Beth Weilenman

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, has joined three other California members of Congress in asking Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to make crude shipments by rail safer.

Thompson, Benicia’s member of the House, as well as Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, George Miller, D-Martinez, and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, have written Foxx, asking him to issue regulations and speed up rules that would prevent future accidents during crude delivery by rail.

“We are especially concerned with the high risks involved with transporting lighter, more flammable crude in densely populated areas,” the four wrote Foxx on Tuesday. “Should spills or explosions occur, as we have seen over the last year, the consequences could be disastrous, costing lives, damaging property, and harming the environment.”

They acknowledged actions Foxx’s department has taken. “We believe that your agency is making steady progress,” they wrote.

But they added, “We must still emphasize the utmost importance of demonstrated compliance with federal regulations by the railroad and petroleum industries. We believe there must be accountability and comprehensive oversight, as well as adherence to the most stringent of standards.”

The four asked the Department of Transportation to take additional measures to assure rail and oil car safety.

One of their requests was to ask the DOT to provide a report on the level of compliance by the railroad and petroleum industries to the May 7 Emergency Order that requires information be shared with local governments in a timely manner.

“It is imperative that local emergency managers and first responders are given up-to-date information on what materials are being transported through their regions, when these transports are occurring, and where this crude oil will be stored,” they wrote.

They asked the department to issue a rule that requires stripping out the most volatile elements, flammable natural gas liquids (NGLs), from Bakken field crude before it is loaded onto rail cars.

“We understand that regulators are already considering this course of action. In order for industry to comply, they would need to build small processing towers known as stabilizers that shave off NGLs from crude before it is ultimately loaded for transport,” the letter said.

“Stabilizers are common in other parts of the country and we understand that this could also be feasible through equipment leasing.”

The four also want the department to expedite putting Positive Train Control (PTC) technology in place for all railroads transporting lighter crude and to provide a status report on that progress.

“Derailments must be avoided at all costs,” they wrote.

According to the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Assocation, PTC is expected to reduce collisions involving trains, enforce line speeds, govern temporary speed restrictions and improve rail worker wayside safety.

The control tells the train more information about its location and where it’s safe to travel, and equipment prevents unsafe movement.

The Federal Railroad Administration has set a goal of deploying a nationwide differential global positioning system.

In 2008, Congress set a Dec. 15, 2015, deadline for putting PTC technology on most of the country’s railroads. The Association of American Railroads offered its support of PTC technology even before the bill was passed and signed by President George W. Bush on Oct. 16, 2008.

The letter also asks DOT to expedite the requirement to phase out old rail cars for stronger and retrofitted cars that have been reinforced to carry the more volatile and sweeter Bakken crude.

“As members of the California Congressional Delegation, we are writing to voice our strong concerns over the increased shipment of crude oil by rail in our districts and the safety risks associated with this upsurge,” Thompson and his colleagues wrote.

“Northern California is already seeing a significant increase in the movement of oil through our local communities, and the number of shipments is only expected to rise in the coming years.

“We cannot allow communities to be in danger when viable solutions are available,” their letter said.

“We believe that we must be vigilant and put in place strict safety regulations that can adapt and meet the rapidly changing transportation and energy needs of our country.”