Garamendi Letter Opposes Delay in Oil Rail Safety Standards

Congressman John Garamendi

Earlier this week, Congressman John Garamendi wrote a letter with Congresswoman Doris Matsui urging the Department of Transportation to issue – without delay – strong safety standards for oil-by-rail transportation.

The letter responds to news that the Department may be considering weakening oil-train safety regulations and delaying the deadline for companies to comply with important safety guidelines. Last month, in West Virginia, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded – just the latest in a series of increasingly frequent incidents.

“Families living near oil-by-rail shipping lines are rightfully concerned about the safety of the trains that pass through their communities. For that reason, I have repeatedly called on the Department of Transportation to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure that these shipments are as safe and secure as possible,” said Congressman Garamendi.

He added, “Every day that strong and effective rules are delayed is another day that millions of Americans, including many in my district, are put at greater risk. While the Department has made this a priority, they must move with greater urgency to address this matter.”

Congressman Garamendi has urged Department officials in person, in Committee hearings, and in the press to adopt strong safety measures to protect communities near rail lines.

In the 3rd District, which Congressman Garamendi represents, there are several key intercontinental rail lines that reach West Coast ports and refineries, including lines that go through the centers of the cities of Fairfield, Suisun City, Dixon, Davis, Marysville, and Sacramento. Garamendi is the Ranking Member (leading Democrat) of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

The full text of the letter:

February 27, 2015

Mr. Timothy Butters
Acting Administrator
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation

Ms. Sarah Feinberg
Acting Administrator
Federal Railroad Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation

Dear Acting Administrators Butters & Feinberg:

We write to express our strong concern that despite increased train car derailments and an overall delay in the issuance of oil-train safety regulations, the Department of Transportation (DOT) may be considering a revision that could delay the deadline for companies to comply with important safety guidelines, including upgrading CPC-1232 tank cars to new standards.  Considering the frequency by which derailments are occurring, we believe that other measures like stabilizing crude and track maintenance before transport must be considered to improve the safety of our communities, and that any weakening of the proposed rule would be ill-advised.

The urgent need for heightened safety standards was underscored last week when 28 tank cars of a crude oil train derailed in West Virginia, causing 20 to catch on fire. The residents of two nearby towns were evacuated, and fires were still blazing 24 hours after the incident. Reports indicate that the cars were supposedly a safer and stronger CPC-1232 model, traveling well below the track’s speed limit at 33 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone. This is the third incident this month, after a train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire in Iowa and another carrying crude derailed and caught fire in Ontario. These are in addition to recent derailments in Northern California’s Feather River Canyon, Plumas County, and Antelope region where three train cars derailed earlier this year while en route from Stockton to Roseville.

The need for safer train cars has long been documented and is overdue. DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol. Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.

Given this alarming news, it brings us great concern that Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) did not meet its January 15th deadline to release a final rule on crude by rail regulations.  We understand that more than 3,000 comments to the rule were analyzed and we commend the DOT for its work with industry thus far on information sharing, slower speeds, and reinforced railcars, but the multi-pronged solutions for this important safety issue must be implemented as quickly as possible.

We also believe that DOT should issue a rulemaking that requires stripping out the most volatile elements from Bakken crude before it is loaded onto rail cars. This operation may be able to lower the vapor pressure of crude oil, making it less volatile and therefore safer to transport by pipeline or rail tank car. Additionally, we believe that track maintenance and improvements must be a priority. We need safer rail lines that are built for the 21st century including more advanced technology in maintaining railroad tracks and trains, so that faulty axles and tracks do not lead to further derailments. If more dangerous and volatile crude is to be transported through cities and towns and along sensitive waterways and wildlife habitat, the rail and shipping industries must do more.

We applaud DOT’s commitment to immediate and long-term solutions to prevent derailments involving crude oil, but we urge you to maintain the timeline set out in the July draft rule, which gives companies two years to retrofit cars, and to include provisions or draft further regulations requiring the stabilization of crude along with better track maintenance technology. We thank the National Transportation Safety Board for its thorough investigation of these incidents, and hope that DOT will prioritize the well-being of the estimated 16 million Americans who live close by oil-by-rail shipping lines throughout the United States. Our communities should not have to live with the fear that it is only a matter of time. Thank you for your commitment to the health and safety of our communities and for your efforts to release a strong and robust safety rule as soon as possible.


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Garamendi Letter Opposes Delay in Oil Rail Safety Standards”

  1. Miwok

    With the railroads leveraging their monopoly of rail right of ways for over 100 years, maybe the people will get together and propose alternate routes and more of them for passengers and freight? UP will not do it unless you pay them.

    The recent talks in Davis proposes moving the rail lines out of Davis so the Oil and Hazardous Materials hauled daily can be safely away from the population. People move next to an airport and complain about planes. The rails were built and towns moved to be close around them, too close. And yet no one wants or will force anyone to move a safe distance away, so IF they ever move the rails, then whatever is around it will build up too.

    These are not old examples, but the Planning Commissions and Developers see an opportunity for profit, safety is never discussed. Local, State. and Federal ordinances allowed this and they can disallow it too. Garamendi is not thinking long term, as only ONE rail line will still be used.

    Let’s get started on a new way of thinking, that there be multiple ways to get anywhere, not just make the highway wider?

    1. Alan Miller

      “maybe the people will get together and propose alternate routes and more of them for passengers and freight?”

      There are no alternate routes. And by the way, another oil train derailed and exploded in Illinois yesterday and is still burning.

      “The recent talks in Davis proposes moving the rail lines out of Davis so the Oil and Hazardous Materials hauled daily can be safely away from the population.”

      This is fundamentally NOT TRUE.  The line that is proposed to be relocated out of Davis is, ironically, and stupidly, the north-south line that is NOT proposed to have unit oil trains, while the sw to east line that IS proposed to have unit oil trains has never been considered for relocation.

      In fact, two-faced Garamendi is the primary supporter of the so-called Yolo rail relocation, and encouraged Davis to pursue federal funding to pay a consultant to write a report that will tell everyone what a great economic benefit this relocation will be.  News flash:  when you have national taxpayers pour money into building a gold-plated frog tunnel under I-80, it will “create” jobs and pump money into the local economy — that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

      Is Garamendi backing a bypass track for freight around Davis on the sw to east main line?  Nope.  I drew up a proposal for just such a bypass track including a feasible routing, that would not only bypass Davis, but all Northern California population centers.  I presented it to the Davis City Council, the Vallejo City Council and SACOG.  No takers.

      Garamendi, instead is backing a politically easy position of supporting federal legislation.  All that takes is a press release; tough work, hard fighting.  #not#.  In fact, the explosion in West Virginia occurred with the cars using the new standards, as did another derailment/explosion.  So obviously, even before it is passed, the proposed regulations are not enough.

      So why isn’t Garamendi fighting for standards that actually will result in cars that won’t explode, even when driven into a locomotive at 45mph?  Perhaps because that will cost the rail industry and oil industry too much profit?  Why isn’t Garamendi backing the rerouting that would result in unit oil trains not passing through population centers?

      In fact, in an article months ago, the Davis glory officer stated that there was economic incentive for moving the n-s line out of town, but not the sw to e line.  Probably true, because the bypass for the mainline would be for freight only, as the passenger line would still come to downtown, so no free land would be opened up for developers at federal taxpayer expense, such as on the n-s line.  I don’t consider a pork-barrel roll of free federal dollars to a local entity an economic incentive, but of course those who would “benefit” do.  In my book, having even a minute chance of downtown Davis, Olive Drive and Old East Davis incinerated and dozens or hundreds of people burned to death, is, actually, an economic incentive to build a rail bypass for mainline freight (not the so-called Yolo rail relocation, which does nothing to keep oil trains out of central Davis).

      The flood control issue is a red herring.  The rail portion of the flood control issue can be solved at vastly lower cost (like 5%) of the cost of the so-called rail relocation.  The rest of the cost is pure developer federal subsidy of particular developers.  I’m not against developers, as such.  I’m against massive federal funding using a LIE to justify spending national taxpayer dollars.

      For the record, I am usually a defender of railroads, railroad safety, and the national autonomy of railroads.  However, no matter the odds at any one particular location, the numerous derailments/explosions of crude oil unit trains in the last couple of years have proven that shipping oil this way is morally wrong.  THREE trains carrying crude from the Bakken area of North Dakota have derailed and exploded in the past three weeks.  One that derailed yesterday near the town of Galena, Illinois continues to burn more than 24 hours after it crashed.  It is only a matter of time before some US town, such as Davis, becomes the next La Megantic.

      Garamendi’s “hard” work — having a staffer put together a press release to support insufficient proposed federal regulations — rings hollow.  Garamendi’s support of the WRONG rail bypass shows he doesn’t really care.  Mr. Garamendi, how about spending the absolute minimum in building a simple rail connection for the flood control, not building the ridiculously expensive and useless bypass on a line with no oil trains and very few trains at all, and instead of cranking up particular friend-developers with nine-figure federal subsidies, seeking instead hundreds of millions to build a rail bypass around Davis and other population centers, or, better yet, building an oil pipeline from a rail-pipeline transfer facility in the northern Sacramento Valley so NO oil trains would pass through California population centers?  Nope, crickets from team Garamendi and all the other politicians.

      And so, Davis may burn.

      1. Miwok

        There are no alternate routes. And by the way, another oil train derailed and exploded in Illinois yesterday and is still burning.

        Alan, nice post, Garamendi bashing notwithstanding. I may agree with this, as he is an opportunist for life, and the points you made were good.

        The S*W rail line relocation was I think mentioned when  we were all talking about the N-S line being moved, and I was promptly denounced like you are doing now.  When you mention “no alternate routes”, it is only because they in some cases used to be some, and now there are not.

        Just as California is ahead of some of the country, especially inconvenienced public, they are way behind on transportation like trucks and trains.

        Oil trains are derailing, and the tracks, once blocked, are blocked for everyone. Just like my point about highways being wide instead of more of them. behind! I prefer alternatives…

  2. Anon

    Garamendi’s “hard” work — having a staffer put together a press release to support insufficient proposed federal regulations — rings hollow.  Garamendi’s support of the WRONG rail bypass shows he doesn’t really care.”

    Or perhaps Garamendi understands his limitations.  He can advocate your ideas till the cows come home, but if no one else is with him, he would be tilting at windmills.  Have you gotten enough of a coalition together to support your viewpoint, or were you one lone speaker in front of the various gov’t bodies you mentioned?  It would take perhaps a citizen’s initiative or a petition with tens of thousands of signatures, I’m thinking, to get your ideas off the ground.

    1. Miwok

      Have you gotten enough of a coalition together to support your viewpoint, or were you one lone speaker in front of the various gov’t bodies you mentioned?

      I used to be that guy, until I realized the idea had to germinate and grow. I have seen ideas I proposed 20 years ago finally get their day in the sun. I believe lots of us have ideas that are true and right, but the powers that be have to “allow” it.

      Sometimes you have to wait for the opposition to die off or retire to get it moving. Just like Habitat for humanity “helps people” build a $359K house, when they can order a $100K house by phone, it leads me to believe speaking up is an exercise in futility,

    2. Alan Miller

      “Have you gotten enough of a coalition together to support your viewpoint, or were you one lone speaker in front of the various gov’t bodies you mentioned?”

      Well, A-Non, you got me there.  Pretty much me and the wall.

      I hoped — with little belief it would happen — that someone with time/power would see the ring of truth in what I was saying and take it on.   Unfortunately, repeated explosions only seem of daily concern to the anti-oil groups, who’s base premise I disagree with (I would build pipelines / they generally are against pipelines and rail).

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