By Elizabeth Lasensky
Valero and other refineries want to ship dangerous crude oil by rail through Davis. These trains are called “bomb trains” for good reason. They carry the same crude on rail cars that derailed last year in Lac Megantic, Canada, incinerating 47 people and wiping out its downtown.
That community has yet to see any compensation but the railroads want to continue to send crude oil through that suffering community.
The currently proposed two loaded 50-car trains and two returning empty 50-car trains will come across the Yolo Bypass, which includes our sensitive Yolo Basin Wildlife Area, will share tracks with Amtrak passenger trains and will parallel Interstate 80. They will pass within a mile of several senior housing complexes, a nursing home and our police station before heading downtown, then near the UC Davis campus before exiting town.
The California Energy Commission predicts that an additional three to four oil trains of 100 cars each will travel the route through Davis within the next two years.
We have a 10 mph left-handed cross-over switch between the main tracks that lie east of the Davis train station. Unit trains of crude oil travel at 30 miles an hour in big cities, and nearly 50 miles per hour in Davis. That disconnect between the speed of the switch in Davis and the speed of the trains is cause for great concern.
Davis has seen two train derailments in recent memory. In 2003, two trains collided because one train was going too fast. The two cars that derailed were, fortunately, empty but the derailment tied up Amtrak travel for some time. In 2009, a 12-car train derailed when the track bed collapsed under the weight of the train, causing two cars to derail, with each car spilling 90 tons of lime into residences to the east of the Davis Food Co-op. Fortunately, in neither case were the trains carrying crude oil.
The city and residents of Davis are taking on huge unwelcome risks by having these trains rumble through our community. At the same time, the railroads and refineries will make huge profits on our risk.
At a minimum, the railroads should provide our community and first responders with a “worst-case scenario” of what would happen should a unit train of crude oil going through Davis derail and explode. To date, the railroads have not provided any city with this important emergency response tool.
Let’s make Davis another first — the first to force the railroads into taking notice of our very justified fears.
— Elizabeth Lasensky is a Davis resident.