Railway time bomb

Local train derailment a reminder of looming disaster

Last week’s news about a train derailing in the Feather River Canyon is a stark reminder that the state’s railways are a ticking time bomb. We got lucky this time. The train cars that tumbled into the Feather River below were carrying corn, not Bakken oil.

As the CN&R reported months ago in a cover story about the dangers of transporting this highly combustible material along high-risk portions of the state’s railway, the chances of a catastrophic accident are on the rise (see “On track for disaster,” July 10). That’s because oil shipments by rail, much of them from fracking operations in North Dakota and Canada, are increasing at an alarming rate.

Six years ago, no oil was shipped by rail in the state. Then, in 2009, 50,000 barrels wound their way along the Golden State’s tracks. Last year, that number rose to 6 million barrels. In 2015, an estimated 150 million barrels of oil will transit the state’s railways.

Already, close to 3 million gallons of Bakken oil are transported each week on the Feather River Canyon tracks alone. This is too risky a prospect for a number of reasons, including the fact that a spill at the headwaters of the State Water Project—Lake Oroville—would contaminate a major supplier of the state’s drinking and irrigation water.

State Sens. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis) have called for rail operators to pay for emergency preparedness training for crews throughout the state. And this week, Hill went a step further, asking Gov. Jerry Brown to halt crude-oil transport altogether. It’s unclear, however, whether the governor has the authority to take such action, as railroads are subject to federal regulations. In that case, we urge our readers to contact the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation and call for a prohibition on crude oil shipments in high-risk routes, including environmentally sensitive areas and highly populated regions.