Rail Safety Bill Passes Out Of Senate Committee

Senator Wolk's bill on rail safety has passed a key legislative hurdle.
Senator Wolk’s bill on rail safety has passed a key legislative hurdle.

Bill requires minimum two–person train crews

Legislation authored by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to protect communities along rail lines, by requiring a safe crew size for trains operating within California, secured passage from the Senate Labor Committee yesterday on a 4-1 vote.

“Today’s freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, pesticides and rocket fuel that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” said Wolk “With over 6000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever present danger.”

SB 730 prohibits a train or light engine hauling freight in California from being operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least 2 people.   It also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission to assess civil penalties against anyone who willfully violates this prohibition.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously last week to support SB 730, stating that requiring two-person crews is a straightforward way of ensuring two qualified crew members continue to operate freight trains in California until such time as the rules and practices of safe operation may be updated for safer operation with smaller crews.  According to the Commission, of all the industries subject to their oversight — energy, water, telecommunications, and transportation — rail accidents result in the greatest number of fatalities each year.

“SB 730 is a great step toward enhancing safety and security on our state’s rail system by requiring two operating crew members to be on board each freight train and light engine,” said Timothy Smith, State Chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the sponsor of SB 730,  “This is very similar to the necessity of having a pilot and co-pilot on every airliner.  The people of this great state demand this type of check and balance for the sake of rail safety and rail security for themselves and our environment.  If SB 730 becomes law, the railroad industry will move one major step closer to ensuring that those goals are realized.”

SB 730 will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Congressman Garamendi was addressing the media when a train slowly passed by illustrating the potential risk to the community
Congressman Garamendi was addressing the media when a train slowly passed by, illustrating the potential risk to the community

Two weeks ago, Congressman John Garamendi held a press conference at the Davis Train Station – which featured a number of local leaders as well as state and federal regulators.

The press conference was called to urge the implementation of stronger safety standards for hazardous material transported by rail, especially Bakken crude oil. Sensitive infrastructure and 16 million Americans are near these railroad shipment lines.

“Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil-by-rail, lives and communities are at risk,” Congressman Garamendi said. “We need the federal government to step in and ensure that the vapor pressure of transported crude oil is lower, making it more stable and safer to transport. We also need to upgrade and ensure the maintenance of rail lines, tank cars, brake systems, and our emergency response plans. My legislation to lower the maximum Reid vapor pressure to 9.5 psi in Bakken-by-rail transport, H.R. 1679, is meant to jumpstart this conversation before it’s too late.”

Mr. Garamendi warned that if one of these trains should derail, “you’d wipe out downtown Davis and possibly hundreds of people.”

Assemblymember Bill Dodd was not in attendance at the press conference but sent a statement, “The safety or our residents is of paramount importance. The federal government needs to ensure that the public safety and environment in our communities here and across the nation are protected. Congressman Garamendi deserves recognition for raising the issues surrounding crude oil rail shipments and working towards solutions.”

Likewise, Senator Lois Wolk sent a statement to the media.

“It is key that we tackle this issue at all levels in order to ensure the safety not only within my district, but across the state,” said Senator Lois Wolk. ” In order to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail, I support Governor Brown’s budget proposal for a fee, that I previously introduced, and is written into this year’s budget for local emergency preparedness. In addition, I have introduced Senate Bill 730 which would require that all freight trains operating in the state be manned by at least two people. This requirement ensures better communication and safety as well as operational efficiency.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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22 Comments

  1. Topcat

    Just this week we had another train/highway vehicle accident just east of Davis that killed the vehicle driver.  This points out, once again, the danger of grade crossings on busy rail lines like the Union Pacific mail line that runs east-west through Davis.  Luckily, this accident did not result in a derailment of the train, but sometimes these types of accidents do result in derailments.  When this happens, there is the possibility of at least major damage and possibly major loss of life.

    When considering rail safety, eliminating grade crossings should be high on the list of priorities. It is very expensive to build overpasses and underpasses, but consider the costs involved in the destruction and loss of life that occurs each time there is a grade crossing accident.

  2. Alan Miller

    Just this week we had another train/highway vehicle accident just east of Davis that killed the vehicle driver.  This points out, once again, the danger of grade crossings on busy rail lines like the Union Pacific mail (sic) line that runs east-west through Davis.

    But . . . but . . . but . . .  John Garamendi is busy working to acquire $100’s of millions of federal taxpayer dollars to move the north-south rail line to the east of Davis, which will do absolutely nothing to keep the currently planned three-unit-oil-trains-per-day out of central Davis.

    The oil trains will move on the E-W line for which Garamendi is not fighting for nine-figure taxpayer investment.  Should the oil trains come, removing the (aforementioned) Swingle Crossing (several deaths, at least one derailment), the Arboretum Crossing (several deaths), and upgrading the uber-dangerous 10-mph mainline crossover (at least two near derailments due to overspeed) — near downtown between the Olive Drive and Old East Davis neighborhoods — would be great investments to reduce the possibility of the derailment of an oil train.  That is many tens of millions of dollars (but not 100’s of millions like the developer-Garamendi plan that does nothing to protect Davis).  Why isn’t our man Garamendi fighting for these very real, on-the-ground safety improvements on the E-W mainline where oil trains are planned to run?

    Yeah Garamendi!  Doing it for the developers (who want the rail lines moved for development), not for the safety of the people.

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      “which will do absolutely nothing to keep the currently planned three-unit-oil-trains-per-day out of central Davis.”

      but will do other things like get rid of the traffic problems in central davis and open up the space to redevelopment

      1. Alan Miller

        DP, how does your mind work?  Apalling!

        I am talking about spending in the NINE FIGURE range.  That kind of money is STAGGERING in a county such as ours.  My point is, we are not going to acquire money for real, needed projects if our politicians are tilting at developers instead of caring for the safety of the people.  Our politicians need to focus such MASSIVE funding requests where real safety and transportation issues already exist and need massive political pull and funding — instead they are talking about this MASSIVE pie-in-the-sky scheme that is so complex and expensive it is unfathomable.  And the cheerleaders lie to us in the reports.

        Traffic problems in Central Davis?  We are talking about ONE train per day, round-trip.  Yes, it causes problems, mostly because of how the railroad runs it.  You are seriously proposing 9-figure federal investment to “solve” what is a problem easily corrected (not for those who don’t want a train at all, but to make the delay minimal) through altering operational practices or building some relatively inexpensive improvements.  No, your solution is re-route the railroad?  That’s like saying I don’t like the noise and sound from I-80 and the traffic it brings to Davis, let’s reroute it south of South Davis.  Yeah, it’s that simple.

        1. Davis Progressive

          and how much would freeing up prime real estate in the core of davis end up generating?  and unfortunately, nine figures isn’t a lot of money for the federal government.  in fact, it’s sadly chump change.

      2. Alan Miller

        and how much would freeing up prime real estate in the core of davis end up generating?

        The real-estate question works in W. Sac and may even pencil out (in which case private industry should be able to take care of the investment in moving the rail line).  It may “work” because two rail yards are going to be opened up for dense development.   With or without Woodland and Davis, the W. Sac project has NOTHING to do with flood control, nor the Woodland and Davis scheme, except that moving the levee could make a bit more room for the new west side, W. Sac connection back onto the UPRR.  Rebuilding the freeway ramp up to the causeway to accommodate the railroad is going to be a VERY expensive and time consuming undertaking.

        In Davis and Woodland, this is a linear right-of-way.  Even towns that aren’t bicycle capitals fight to have a linear transportation corridor through town.  This is a narrow right of way and should the rails ever actually be moved, this is going to be a bike path and linear park, and there’s not a lot of extra room unless your development is a spaghetti farm.  But no, the cheerleaders are trying to get local sucker businesses to buy into this very risky, very unlikely, very-much-not-funded ponzie scheme, and leverage development rights for an investment in the scheme.  Good luck with that.

        And seriously, is our City Council going to trash a linear transportation corridor through town for development rights to leverage this scheme?  Are any of them going to stand up and say this is wrong?

        1. hpierce

          Likely… the most strident staff voices against that are retired now.  They saw the future benefit of the corridor 50, 100 years hence… to parley your reference to JC, talk about “selling your birthright for a mess of pottage”…

  3. Tia Will

    Alan

    I could not agree with you more that our representatives should be placing public health and safety over development and limited economic interests. What is of interest to me is that while you seem quite passionate about this with regard to the rail lines, you do not seem willing to apply the same basic principles to children’s health issues in town favoring business prerogatives over the health and wellness of children. Can you explain the difference in your thinking ?

     

     

    1. Frankly

      At some point economic interests are public health and safety interests.

      While the linear right-of-way / track area might be narrow, it could support some added sq ft in development even if the main repurpose is a bike path (another one we cannot afford to maintain).  It would also increase the value of the land adjacent to the tracks, and likely encourage private redevelopment.  And all of this has real ongoing monetary value to the community.

      But there needs to be a more complete cost-benefit accounting.

      1. Alan Miller

        Well, you’ll get it from the economic development report, now being prepared by a consultant that is being paid prime coin to make the project look better than Jesus Christ himself.

  4. Davis Progressive

    i think the bigger problem here is what is a two member crew going to be able to do and how many of the current accidents have had two members crews?

    1. Tia Will

      i think the bigger problem here is what is a two member crew going to be able to do”

      I am hoping that Alan will weigh in on this point. What I see as a major advantage to a two member crew is avoidance of error induced by fatigue and having two eyes on situations of particular risk such as the need for a reduction in speed at junctures such as the one extremely close to our homes in the J Street / Olive Drive area as previously pointed out by Alan.

      1. Alan Miller

        The advantage is two sets of eyes, and efficiency if the train has to be walked/inspected so one person can still run the train while the other is on the ground, especially in rough terrain.

        Having said that, both trains that I witnessed nearly derailing due to extreme overspeed through the 10-mph mainline crossover had two-person crews (I know this because they all run with at least two persons now).  BOTH personnel in the cab in both cases failed to remember and catch that the crossover they were about to pass through was the 10-mph crossover, not the standard 45-mph crossover.  The consequences could have been catastrophic; yet the crossover remains.

    2. Topcat

      …what is a two member crew going to be able to do…

      When it comes to grade crossing accidents, it is completely irrelevant whether you have one or two people in the cab.  Once the engineer sees a vehicle on the track, there is usually no chance of stopping the train.  It is usually just a matter of a few seconds before the collision occurs.

      The real solution is to eliminate grade crossings by constructing grade separations.  This solution is expensive and so there is not much political will to get this done; however, avoiding just one serious derailment and the ensuing damage and death would make it well worth while.

      And yes, from a safety perspective, priority needs to be on the east-west Union Pacific mainline; NOT the north-south line going up to Woodland.

      1. Miwok

        The real solution is to eliminate grade crossings by constructing grade separations.  This solution is expensive and so there is not much political will to get this done; however, avoiding just one serious derailment and the ensuing damage and death would make it well worth while.

        It is interesting that the world needs MORE separation from dangerous things. Topcat will next argue that red lights are not enough at auto intersections, sidewalks need rails or fences around them, for the adults, not the children.

        JUST ONE. FOR THE CHILDREN? More education would be better, and more information. We have many children whose parents never learned anything about railroad crossings? Maybe Sen Wolk can include education about RR Crossings in the bill?

        RE the North South line: Maybe the City has discussed this in the past, but why not tear out the homes on either side and make it a shopping corridor like Napa Valley has? The Woodland Wine Train would be a good start, with the views of the Sutter Buttes, Scenic Arbuckle, and Downtown  Zamora? 🙂

        1. Alan Miller

           argue that red lights are not enough at auto intersections, sidewalks need rails or fences around them, for the adults, not the children.

          The problem is, these crashes are very expensive, shut down the railroad for hours, occasionally (and once did at Swingle) derail a train, and despite all efforts, continue to happen (sometimes as suicides).

           

          FOR THE CHILDREN? More education would be better, and more information.

          Operation Lifesaver provides this education in our schools today.  However, it’s hard to teach stupid people not to be stupid or stop suicidal people from taking their lives.

        2. Topcat

          However, it’s hard to teach stupid people not to be stupid or stop suicidal people from taking their lives.

          Boy, is that right! All the education in the world doesn’t seem to stop stupidity.  We’ve seen a major education effort to get people to stop using cell phones while driving, and I see that happening every day here in Davis.

      2. Topcat

        The Woodland Wine Train would be a good start, with the views of the Sutter Buttes, Scenic Arbuckle, and Downtown  Zamora?

        I love it 🙂 The passengers would get a great view of the Cannery development along the way too.

        1. Alan Miller

          The highlights in Davis would of course be the backside of the strip mall north of the Davis Food COOP and the underside of the Covell overpass.

        2. Miwok

          Rode the Napa wine Train once, and that is all I saw, the backsides of the industry..We have better views than that.

          thank you for the comments about the other things.. I did not want to use the S word.

    3. hpierce

      I’m smelling a “game” by politicians, fueled by certain interests.  California Northern, who operates on the N/S line thru Davis, up to Woodland, even have signs by the tracks saying the trains may be “robo-controlled”.  This legislation might (only might) be driven [pun intended] to either force short-line companies to leave the playing field, or justify the relocation of the “short-line”.  [Alan, are you listening?]  At public expense, but for the benefit of few.

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