April Martinez Mayor's Message
Apr 01, 2015 10:12AM ● Published by Jennifer Neys
by Rob Schroder, Martinez Mayor
The most important job of a city council is the safety and security of its residents, businesses, and visitors. This is why over 50% of most city budgets are dedicated to the police department. In Central Contra Costa County, the consolidated fire district handles fire and emergency medical response.
The cities along the Northern Waterfront of Contra Costa County have been hosts to an array of industrial operations, including oil refineries, chemical plants, steel mills, and power generation plants. For 100 years, Martinez has been the home of Shell Oil and is crossed by rail lines operated by Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroads. The safe operation of these industrial complexes and rail lines and the ability of first responders to reach an accident are the upmost priority of the Martinez City Council.
Ever since the completion of the railroad bridge over the Carquinez Straits in 1930 replaced the railroad ferry barges to Port Costa, railroad freight traffic through Martinez has steadily increased from year to year. And with the development of the oil fields in North Dakota, Montana, and Southern Canada, more and more oil is being shipped by rail, including the BNSF line along Highway 4 in Southern Martinez from Stockton to Richmond. No oil is currently being transported by rail on the Union Pacific line that runs along the Martinez waterfront.
The Martinez City Council is very concerned about the safety of these shipments of oil and all other volatile materials through our community. We have passed a resolution declaring our concern and commitment to work with state and national authorities to increase safety procedures, improve equipment transporting hazardous materials, eliminate accidents, and provide improved emergency response and training.
We are working with the League of California Cities, our local state and federal elected officials, and the railroads to make certain that rail shipments of all material, hazardous and non-hazardous, continues to energize our economy and provide jobs and commerce, but not at the expense of property and human lives.
The League of California Cities has monitored the transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail for several months and has adopted several goals for safety improvements. The League urges the Secretary of Transportation to implement the following goals as soon as possible:
· Mandate electronically controlled braking systems on rail cars
· Expedite retrofit or phase-out of tank cars failing to meet current safety standards
· Mandate provision of real-time information to first responders in the event of accidents
· Federal funding for first responders
· Mandatory speed limits
· Mandate stricter reporting requirements
· Identify priority routes for positive train control
· Reduce speed for crude oil trains with older tank cars in urban areas
· Determine safest routes for crude oil trains
· Increase track inspections
· Improve emergency response training
· Better emergency response plans
· Regulate the parking and storage of tank cars.
Because the federal government regulates railroads, we are also working with our federal representatives on solutions. Congressman Mike Thompson recently hosted a meeting in Martinez with Congressman John Garamendi and Mark DeSaulnier. In attendance were several state and local officials as well as many local, state, and federal agencies. The question that was posed to all was: “What are the three top things that keep you up at night?” The ensuing discussion gave the congressmen many ideas of how to improve the safety and emergency response of rail accidents. This is just the start of a process that will likely take several years to develop and implement.