California Senate Bill Increases Response to Oil Train Derailments

Thanks to an increasing number of oil train derailments, the California senate has been looking to lower the risks of these types of accidents happening to as close to zero as possible. This is especially important in California as the number of barrels of crude oil that have been shipped into the Golden State via rail transport has increased at an incredible rate over the past several years, from 500,000 in 2010 to 6.3 million just three years later. One of the primary reasons why this issue has risen to the forefront relatively quickly in California is because many of its busiest rail lines go right through some of the state’s most populated areas, such as the Bay Area and Los Angeles. A number of California’s refineries are located in these areas as well. These include ones situated in Richmond and Wilmington, communities located less than 20 miles from downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Simply put, Californians want to ensure that a FELA railroad accident related to an oil train derailment does not occur within its borders. Several have taken place elsewhere in the United States over the past several months. In November, an oil-train derailment and explosion took place in Aliceville, Ala. Another occurred a month later in Casselton, N.D. A freight train explosion in Lynchburg, Va., in April sent flames and black plumes of smoke high into the air. Of course, these derailments followed the disaster in July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people and required work injury attorney representation to protect injured workers. This train had started its journeys in North Dakota before crossing the Canadian border. The three primary proposals that are under consideration or have already passed are expected to increase safety in relation to rail transport of oil in a number of ways. Gov. Jerry Brown is looking to expand a program that already exists for oil spills taking place in the ocean areas that border the state to also include accidents that take place inland. The hiring of new track inspectors is also included amongst his plans. State Sen. Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 1319 was recently passed by a 23-11 count. It updates the prevention-and-response program that had already been in place due to the recent and anticipated increase in the amount of crude oil being imported into the state. Both of those plans have been opposed by the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad, two of the principal companies that use the rails to bring crude oil into the Golden State. Roger Dickinson of the California State Assembly has also put forward Assembly Bill 38, which was recently approved by the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee. It requires companies such as BNSF and Union Pacific to maintain communication lines with first responders on a 24-hour basis. They will also have to report details about the crude oil that they are bringing into California to the Office of Emergency Services. The rail companies, however, state that their safety record for delivering hazardous materials is near 100 percent and that they are very willing to work with the state to ensure that this level of safety remains high. They have also voiced doubt that the amount of oil being transported to the Golden State will increase as high as lawmakers believe it will. Also, the railroads and the federal government have voiced concerns that what California is proposing may not be able to be integrated into already existing federal regulations.