Call for Suspension of Crude-by-Rail Shipments After Feather River Derailment

A Union Pacific locomotive. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

A prominent critic of the state's readiness to respond to potential crude-by-rail accidents wants Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on oil trains traveling through Northern California's Feather River Canyon and more than a dozen other sections of railroad throughout the state.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) made the request after a Union Pacific freight train derailed on the Feather River route northeast of Oroville last week. A dozen cars of the train, which was carrying grain, left the tracks; one car spilled corn into the river.

Hill's letter (embedded below) reminded the governor the incident was a close call:

Your Office of Emergency Services (OES) was quoted as saying that "we dodged a bullet" because the train was carrying corn rather than oil. OES stated that each week a train carrying 1 million gallons of highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota travels down the canyon and there are plans to add a second train shortly.

The incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California. Had Tuesday's derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville, and contaminating California's second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.

Hill's letter goes on to call for a halt to shipments of crude oil and other hazardous substances on sections of railroad that the California Public Utilities Commission has identified as particularly hazardous. Those track segments include about 87 miles of the Feather River route between Oroville and Quincy and roughly 16 other sites throughout the state.

The CPUC identified rail segments with steep grades and sharp curves, many of which are situated adjacent to bodies of water. Because those sites are usually in remote areas, emergency responders are generally unequipped to respond quickly to accidents.

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Hill asked Brown to impose a moratorium on hazardous materials shipments until state and local agencies "have developed and fully implemented emergency prevention and response plans are fully protective of our environment."

Here's Hill's complete letter:

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