Defending dumb


Label from one LPG rail-car.
Too much information?

In response to my posting of images of potentially explosive rail cars stored for days (and maybe years?) under the Carquinez Bridges that carry the traffic of Interstate 80, there was a small flood of comments on Facebook.  The Al Zampa span is a suspension bridge with the two cables that support the entire structure directly overhead of the rail-car storage site.  I pointed out that these rail-cars are readily accessible to the public.  I contend that this is is NOT a good place to store rail cars that contain Butane or Propane, or any other flammable materials.

To my dismay, there are some arguing that this is not a problem.  The arguments confuse me both in their logic and intent.

First it was pointed out that you can get killed just crossing the street.  While true, some smart people have seen it wise to install crosswalks at certain locations, and some people choose to use them to increase (slightly) their chances for survival.  This is for safety.

The point was raised that we fly in airplanes, even though there is a chance of crashing, because the chances of crashing are slim.  Yes, but please consider that the reason why there are so few accidents on airplanes is because there are very strict safety rules that are enforced.  I wouldn’t fly if they weren’t in place.

Finally, the argument was made that it has been done for the last 40 years.   I call that the “tradition defense”.  I can’t even begin to address that.  I smoked for 40 years.  That was dumb too.

The safety regulations of the rail industry have been proven lax based on the number of rail accidents and deaths lately and the underlying causes.  There is now close scrutiny being placed on the issue, so it is in the news.  Oil by rail is on a huge increase, and our neighboring Phillips 66 would like to start shipping large quantities of propane by rail. We are at the nexus of these changes here in Contra Costa.  New regulations are being formulated by legislators for the rail industry, and some stupid 40 year practices may need to change.

When the co-generation plant was proposed for C&H in Crockett, the initial plan involved a large tank of anhydrous ammonia next to the RR tracks.  While unlikely, a train derailment might rupture the tank, bringing serious peril to Crockett residents.  Because of community concern, the design was revised excluding the need for ammonia.

In 2003, at or near the CoGen location there was a derailment.  The foresight of  a couple of members of our community had headed off what could have been a huge disaster. There was no law against the placement of dangerous materials adjacent to the RR tracks, but logic showed it was a bad idea.  The deaths would have been news.  Thankfully, it was a small event.  Very few residents are aware of this.

I am not against the placement of explosives under the Carquinez Bridge.  I am against the placement of explosives under any bridge.  How much material is in the rail-cars? There is no way to know.  What material is in the rail-cars? Again, there is no way to know.  Propane and butane are different but have the same classification as LPG. Legislation needs to catch up with reality so that communities know what they are dealing with.  How many locations are there where dangerous materials are stored under bridges or in tunnels?

Since 911 there have been many changes made at the P66 refinery.  Security has been tightened, and I see new improvements to harden the facility all the time.  There has been no such step-up of the security of tanker-cars off site (at least not at the Crockett storage site).  Sure it is not the responsibility of the refinery, but tanker-cars are more of a potential target these days than 40 years ago. When off site these materials are readily accessible, and they are just as dangerous as when they were on-site.  Why put these under a bridge with no security?

Will tougher regulations and enforcement take away jobs?  I don’t think so.  Maybe we will need hire a few security guards and firefighters to ensure safety. When I see stupid and I might be able to do something about it, I speak up.  Meanwhile, I gave up smoking, and recently stopped running with scissors.



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