Concern grows over rail transportation of oil

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As U.S. oil production rises and shipments by rail increase, the concern is growing in the Bay Area about rail and environmental safety.

More and more crude oil is being shipped by rail, and that is raising safety concerns for communities along the tracks, such as those in Contra Costa County near the refineries. County leaders are talking about this issue right now.

The shipment of oil by rail is enough of a concern that state regulators have already issued a set of recommendations on ways to keep the trains and the communities that they go through safe.

"It's a concern. It's something I want to know more about," artist Erin McGarry said.

McGarry's love for nature and respect for the environment is captured in each purposeful paint stroke. But she fears her waterfront inspiration is in danger.

"You want to know what's coming through your backyard and where it's going and what are we doing with it," McGarry said.

According to a new oil by rail safety report, commissioned by the State of California, oil production is up and much of the crude pumped other places is coming to Bay Area refineries.

"We see a lot of different fossil fuel commodities coming through our communities," Michell Myers said.

Myers is with the Sierra Club, whose mission is to protect the ecosystem. She says shipping oil, coal and petcoke - a carbon burn-off in oil refining -- present a host of environmental issues, air pollution and the risk of train accidents.

"These rail lines are also right along our waterways. So if there was a spill or an accident, this would have a devastating impact on the environment," Myers said.

Last year there were two major accidents involving the transportation of chemicals or fuel by rail. On May 28, 2013 a freight train exploded when it collided with a garbage truck and derailed in the town of Rosedale, outside of Baltimore. The explosion rattled homes more than half a mile away.

Just weeks later on July 6, 42 people were killed in Quebec, Canada when an unattended freight train carrying crude oil derailed and ran away, resulting in fire and explosion.

"The cities that have these trains rolling through them are going to be prevented eventually from doing anything substantive to stop these trains," engineer and Martinez City Councilmember Mark Ross said.

Ross says there is no perfect form of transport and believes the state's own safety report illustrates how risks can be reduced.

"Better breaking systems, wheel barring failure monitors that tell the engineers if there is a wheel that's about to fail, which causes accidents," Ross said.

Those suggestions are salient, cogent and doable action items that for now would be up to the towns to ask for and the railroads to do.
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businessoiloil spilltrainstrain safetyenvironmentcaliforniaMartinez
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