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.
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