MARTINEZ -- With the city transected by railroads, Martinez residents have expressed concern about reports of increased rail shipments of volatile crude oil. Consequently, the City Council's Public Safety Committee investigated the issue and has determined that most of the crude oil coming through Martinez is by pipeline.

Councilman Mike Menesini said Martinez refineries are not equipped to receive crude oil by rail and that most of the crude is delivered by pipeline. Additionally, there is not enough pipeline infrastructure in California to support the increased production of Bakken and Canadian crude, so it is primarily shipped by rail.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe is the only railroad shipping crude through Martinez from Stockton to Richmond, according to Menesini.

The track BNSF uses crosses the trestle near Highway 4 at Alhambra Avenue every seven to 10 days, or about four times a month, according to Councilwoman AnaMarie Avila Farias, who also serves on the committee.

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District is presently notified in advance of times, number of rail cars and types of cars coming through town. Menesini said acting Police Chief Eric Ghisletta, Martinez police and fire departments get the same information.

At the June 18 council meeting, residents told the council that they are also worried about rail cars stored in the rail switching yard west of downtown. Farias said she was told those cars are empty and are labeled as such, and asked the public to report anything to the contrary to the police.

She also urged the public to come to the next Public Safety Committee meeting in September, when she and Menesini will have more data after meeting with federal rail officials.

Councilman Mark Ross asked the city attorney to review the city rail switching yard lease where rail cars are stored. Menesini supported that idea, but said other agencies have an interest in that property and it is unlikely the city can do much with regard to the site.

The committee's job is also to confirm and/or develop specific rail-related emergency preparedness plans.

Ross said he had just read the Oil by Rail Safety report issued June 10, by the California Interagency Rail Safety Working Group and suggested it could be helpful in that respect.

He urged the rest of the council to read the report, which says that more crude oil was transported by rail in North America in 2013 than in the past five years combined, and that more preparations are needed. He added that it also has specific recommendations for how to prepare for explosions, derailments and other potential dangers.

"I haven't wanted to be an alarmist until I got more information," Ross said.

Among precautions he cited from the report were: wayside monitors placed every 40 miles or so on the tracks to detect worn-out wheel bearings, and installation of the best braking systems on crude rail cars.

The federal government controls rail safety and has upgraded standards for oil rail cars in response to the increased risk, including some of the report's recommendations, and railroads generally support the regulations, Ross said.

For example, BNSF spent $4 billion on maintenance and equipment last year, and said it will increase capital spending for that to $5 billion this year, according to Warren Buffett's annual letter to investors. Buffet-led Berkshire Hathaway Co. bought BNSF Railway Co. in 2010.

Mayor Rob Schroder reminded the committee that its efforts must address all rail safety measures, including other kinds of hazardous materials coming through town, and finding ways to help keep people off the tracks.

Councilwoman Lara DeLaney proposed that the city of Martinez send a letter of support for California SB 1319.

That bill amends the California Oil Spill contingency plan with emphasis on water spills, and includes an organizational chart for who will be in charge of traffic and crowd control, firefighting, boating traffic control, radio and communications, use of local and regional equipment, identification of private resources or personnel and more, in case of a water-related oil spill.

Visit www.leginfo.legislature.ca.gov for more on the bill, and www.cityofmartinez.org to see a video of the council discussion.

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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