More than 135,000 Sacramentans live within a half-mile of rail tracks and could find themselves in harm’s way should a crude oil train derailment cause a spill, according to a report published Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council in California. The group’s maps show 25,000 residents in Davis within a half-mile of train tracks.
The NRDC study includes maps of rail lines through seven California cities, showing areas likely to require evacuation in case of serious rail incident. It is unclear which lines might carry crude oil trains. Oil companies and railroads closely guard information about crude oil rail movements. NRDC said its analysis of a handful of oil company refinery and terminal projects indicates more than seven trains, each a mile long, could soon run through metropolitan areas daily.
Oil companies increasingly are turning to rail shipments of crude oil, responding to the availability of less expensive deposits in North Dakota and Canada. Diane Bailey, a scientist with NRDC, said the state does not yet have safety measures and adequate emergency response plans in place to handle the expected increase.
The NRDC report follows a report Tuesday authorized by the city of Benicia that said a plan for the city’s Valero Refining Co. to run 100 crude oil train cars a day through Sacramento, Roseville, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities is unlikely to cause a spill.
Those trains could begin operation later this year and are expected to run on the rail line shared by the Capitol Corridor passenger train service. That line loops into Sacramento near Business 80, and runs westward along the top of the downtown perimeter, passing through the downtown railyard, then over the I Street Bridge to West Sacramento. It continues through downtown Davis on its way to Benicia.
Acknowledging the growing concern, federal officials have issued warnings about the potential higher flammability of one crude oil type, Bakken oil, and have been exploring implementing tougher safety designs for crude oil tankers to replace the current fleet, which has been deemed inadequate to safely transport volatile crude oils.
In its report, the NRDC called for officials to:
• Remove antiquated oil tankers from service.
• Impose lower speed limits on crude oil trains.
• Reroute trains around sensitive areas.
• Require railroads to disclose the contents of trains.
• Make emergency procedures available to local residents.
• Assess fees on shippers to cover costs of improved emergency response to incidents.
• Elevate crude oil trains to the highest risk category for hazardous material shipments.
• Require oil companies to conduct “cumulative risk analysis” for oil rail infrastructure projects, so that the overall impact of all projects is adequately analyzed.