Safety Precautions: Hear from the industry

Published 02/11 2014 04:36PM

Updated 02/11 2014 05:06PM

Proposed Crude by Rail Projects
Proposed Crude by Rail Projects
With two potential crude by rail projects proposed in Kern County, safety is being discussed by the rail companies that will handle this new traffic. Those companies include the main lines: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Union Pacific (UP) and the short line, San Joaquin Valley Railroad (SJVR).

We asked each companies questions regarding safety. Below are their responses.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad
(Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc.)
Michael E. Williams, Director, Corporate Communications for Genesee & Wyoming returned the following answers.

Question: Is SJVR doing anything to prepare for these projects?

Williams: SJVR is working with our Class I railroad partners on a large project to upgrade the line, including enhanced protection for auto and pedestrian traffic at public crossings. SJVR also will be hiring and training additional train service employees.

Question: In light of recent accidents in other parts of North America involving oil train cars, what are SJVR safety precautions on lines that carry crude? With no recorded incidents here, should residents have any concern?

Williams: The railroad is legally obligated to accept the traffic that customers want moved, and its role is to fulfill this vital obligation safely and efficiently. Among other precautions, SJVR will limit crude oil trains to 25 mph or less, and every crude oil train will be preceded by track inspectors in a hi-rail truck. Residents should be assured that SJVR will do everything in its power to safely move this traffic. 99.998 percent of hazmat shipments arrive without a release caused by a train accident, and SJVR and the other G&W railroads are acknowledged safety leaders in the industry.

Question: What subset of your rail line will this new traffic run on? Can those lines handle the increased traffic?

Williams: This traffic will run from Bakersfield to about 20 miles southwest. SJVR employees live and work in these same communities. Simply put, if they cannot do something safely, then they will not do it. With the upgrades and precautions described above, this traffic can be handled safely.

Question: Will SJVR embrace more projects like this in the future with the increase of oil from the Bakken and Eagle Ford shales?

Williams: Crude by rail and other petroleum-based products have moved across the SJVR for years and will continue to be a significant percentage of traffic. Market demand can only support a finite number of terminals, so given the size and markets served by these two projects, it's unlikely that additional large-scale crude by rail terminals would be developed in the area.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF)
BNSF would not give us an on-camera interview but Lena Kern, a spokesperson for BNSF, provided us with answers to the following questions via email.

Question: How much crude oil comes through Kern County by train daily by way of BNSF routes?

Kent: Crude coming into California is very limited. Currently BNSF only operates one to two crude trains a month into Northern California.

Question: With recent national concern after several accidents, is BNSF taking precautions?

Kent: We are working to reduce risk as much as possible to safely ship crude oil and across our network. We are focused on preventing accidents in the first place. We do this through investing in our infrastructure to ensure the integrity and reliability of our network, a culture of safety with our employees that emphasizes proper training and compliance, and a robust track and equipment inspection program that exceeds federal standards.

Record capital investments are being made in the railroad. BNSF has invested more than $41 billion since 2000, including a record $4.3 billion in 2013.

Our employees share our safety vision and are provided detailed technical and rules training. BNSF uses a robust compliance oversight process.

BNSF inspects track and bridges more frequently than required by the FRA to help ensure they are safe.

Detectors on our rail lines monitor each passing railcar for stresses on the wheels or other components to help prevent equipment failures before they occur.

We have always handled some commodities with extra precaution to further reduce risk. For more than two decades BNSF and the rail industry have operated specially identified "Key Trains," which carry certain hazardous materials, with more restrictive operating procedures than required by federal regulation.

This past summer, crude oil and ethanol were both designated as commodities to receive this special "Key Train" handling. And BNSF and the rail industry implemented additional measures to reduce risk and, in some cases, provide an additional layer of review to reinforce existing safety rules.

Key Train operating procedures and practices are ingrained into BNSF's day-to-day operations, and include:

Lower speed limits (50 mph unless further restricted by lower speed limits on the track)

Stricter rules for trackside warning device notifications and emergency brake applications

Special identification and tracking

More frequent track inspections

We must do everything possible so that BNSF and communities are prepared to respond if an incident occurs. BNSF has specialized equipment and more than 200 hazmat responders staged at locations across our network to address hazmat and crude oil incidents. This effort is supported by a network of contract emergency and environmental responders intended to execute a rapid and well-coordinated response with local agencies.

BNSF also provides community hazmat response training across our network so that local emergency responders are better prepared for an incident involving rail

Tank Cars

BNSF does not own the tank cars used to transport hazardous materials and crude oil for rail customers. They are owned by the customers directly or by leasing companies.

The most significant growth in crude oil volumes shipped by rail has occurred primarily in the past couple of years. All tank cars ordered since October of 2011 have been built to the new tougher tank car standards which include:

Thicker, puncture-resistant steel shells

Extra protective head shields at both ends of the tank car

Additional protection for the top fittings

Higher flow capacity pressure release valves

All rail cars in service on BNSF and other railroads are required by Federal regulation to undergo inspection every 1,000 miles they travel.

Question: Should residents near rail lines that carry oil be concerned?

BNSF believes that every accident and injury is preventable. Operating free of accidents and injuries has long been part of BNSF's vision and our focus has been on preventing accidents in the first place.

The rail industry as a whole is also very safe and has reduced employee injury rates, train accident rates, and grade crossing collision rates by 80 percent or more since 1980.

Rail is the safest mode of land transportation for freight in general and is one of the safest ways to transport crude oil and hazardous materials.

We have made this remarkable safety progress in partnership with our employees and by continually investing in new technologies that help make the railroad safer and more efficient.

BNSF has a broad-based, multi-level risk reduction program for all trains to reduce incident risk and ensure all commodities are handled safely and damage and incident-free.

Question: Should Kern County expect more oil to travel by rail in the coming years with the Midwest's shale booms?

Kent: The market place in California will determine whether more crude is brought into the State.
Union Pacific (UP)
Aaron Hunt, spokesperson for Union Pacific and Bakersfield native, spoke to 17 News on camera about some of these safety topics. Below are his answers.

Question: How much crude by rail is coming into Kern County?

Hunt: If you look at the top commodities that Union Pacific brings in and ships out of California on behalf of our customers you're looking at things like cement and gravel, automobiles, intermodel product, and agricultural products are a huge part of our business in California particularly in the Central Valley. We're moving a lot of the fruits and vegetables from the Central Valley in the central part of the country. So when you look at the over product that Union Pacific is moving on behalf of its customers here in the Bakersfield area in the greater Kern County region those are the kinds of products you see.

As it relates to hazardous materials, Union Pacific is a common carrier by rail and federal law requires all common carriers to move hazardous materials ethanol, crude oil on behalf of our customers...whether we want to or not.

As we communicate about those hazardous materials we have to be very specific about those communications. We provide information involving the hazardous materials we ship via secure means to first responders. Folks in Bakersfield in Kern County we have identified every fire department on our network and we communicate with them regularly about the types of hazardous materials we are shipping on behalf of our customers. We don't communicate that information to the public. All communication of the movement of hazardous materials are done in accordance with very particular requirements that flow from the Transportation Security administration and Homeland Security.

Question: Can you give specifics about how much crude oil travels into Kern County every day, month?

Hunt: In California, Union Pacific has over 3300 miles of track. We have 5,000 employees who live and work in Bakersfield and Bakersfield, Kern County is a major part of our network. The railroad has been in Bakersfield for more than 100 years. It's a very important community for us. We have people who work there all the way to the fact that Union Pacific has made donations to several non-profits in Bakersfield because it's a very crucial part of our network.

If you look at a network perspective, in 2012 Union Pacific moved 140,000 carloads of crude oil. That's compared to 25,000 carloads of crude oil in 2011. So it is a growing market for us. Most of that crude oil is flowing towards the Gulf of Mexico which is a major focal point of the energy industry.

Question: What's your role in the Plains All American project?

Hunt: We're really committed to Bakersfield. We're an important part of the community and have been for a long time. Railroad infrastructure you don't pull it up and put it overseas. It's built and it's meant to stay. I think what is evidence of that is Union Pacific's capital investment in the State of California is more than $1.7 billion between 2007 to 2012. I think that shows the commitment that we have to make to operate a rail network and enhance the tracks and keep it moving.

Union Pacific, we have a rail terminal in Old Town Kern. The San Joaquin Railroad operates the line that goes east to Levy, Gosford. We are in conversations with San Joaquin Valley Railroad and also with our competitor BNSF Railway as it relates to this Plains All American project out in the Levy area.

As I said before we are required to move product but we also see this as an opportunity for us and the employees in Bakersfield. These are excellent jobs for our folks and we are part of that conversation that is ongoing.

Question: Plains All American says they are working with you to make lines crude ready. Is that accurate and can you expand on that?

Hunt: If Plains All America is able to come online with this opportunity there are a number of different things that will have to take place in terms of track infrastructure and we're part of those conversations and those ongoing. It looks optimistic.

Question: Will this be safe in the community?

Hunt: We empathize with the concern communities have in the areas we operate trains. We believe we are a part of the community. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the women and men of our communities where we have trains. Our employees live and work there. That is definitely the case in Bakersfield.

Our top priority is to safely move hazardous materials that our customers ask us to ship on their behalf. Our focus on that is significant. As a company has invested more than $18 billion dollars to improve the safety and service efficiency of our lines.

We hold training programs to go in and work with first responders to gauge their familiarity with a tank car. We introduce them to the tank and talk about the technology although Union Pacific does not own the tank cars. The customers own the tank cars. Each year we train 2,500 first responders to make sure they understand.

More than 99 percent of hazmat shipments arrive safely to their destination without any kind of release before their final destination so it's clear rail is the safest way to, safest above ground option to move hazardous materials. We're committed to that.

Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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