California officials seek to ensure
safety of trains hauling crude oil
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[June 20, 2014]
By Jennifer Chaussee
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - State and
local officials in California, worried that trains carrying crude oil
from Canada and North Dakota could cause explosions or environmental
damage in their state, asked lawmakers on Thursday to regulate the
shipments, which are becoming more frequent.
Firefighters and others urged action on bills in the California
legislature to impose safety regulations on trains carrying crude
oil to refineries in the state, a year after a disastrous oil train
derailment in Canada that killed 47 people and spilled 1.6 million
gallons of crude.
“We have a spotlight on this issue because of the seriousness of the
risk to public safety that it presents,” said Democratic Assemblyman
Roger Dickinson, whose district encompasses parts of Sacramento
along the trains’ route.
The volume of oil shipped by train through the most populous U.S.
state has increased dramatically in recent years, public safety
experts told a legislative committee at a hearing on Thursday.
Kim Zagaris, fire and rescue chief with the state's office of
emergency services, said first responders need training to deal with
the particularly volatile oil that is being shipped into the state
to refineries in Northern and Southern California.
“This is a new crude we don’t have experience with,” Zagaris said.
“We need ongoing and new training.”
Safety concerns were brought into stark relief last summer, when an
engineer parked his train for the night on a main line uphill from
the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The train of oil tankers
started rolling and eventually derailed, exploding into balls of
The accident brought new scrutiny for North America's thriving
crude-by-rail business. Shipping crude oil by rails has soared in
recent years, propelled by increased production in Western Canada
and North Dakota without an accompanying boost in pipeline capacity.
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Environmental advocates say a spill could irreparably damage the
California's waterways, while public safety experts worry about gaps
in the state’s ability to respond to a potential disasters.
Oil and rail industry representatives told lawmakers that they had
already done much to improve safety. BNSF Railway lobbyist Juan
Acosta testified that the company had agreed to slow its oil trains
to 40 mph and increase inspections of its tracks.
At the state level, lawmakers have introduced measures to regulate
the trains and approved fees to fund oil spill cleanups and
hazardous materials training programs. They also have asked the
federal government to create new regulations to help prevent
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Bill Trott)
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