First Responders Want More Notice of Oil by Train

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A train carrying crude oil passed through midtown Sacramento early Wednesday evening, and first responders say they would have liked more notice.

It’s a different kind of crude – a highly flammable variety from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

“Something like that crashes, there’s an accident, it’s going to be really bad,” Lisette Theard, who lives just a few blocks away, told FOX40.

“You should always be aware of what’s coming. We know what kind of planes are going through, gas trucks have certain routes to go. [I] think the same thing for trains,” Justin Heberling of Sacramento said.

And after much concern expressed by first responders with no hint of what they might be up against  on the rails, the U.S. Department of Transportation agreed with Heberling.

The DOT issued and emergency order last month – requiring rail carriers to give states advance notice of when such shipments of a million gallons or more are moving through.

“There’s a little misunderstanding that people believe we were getting train schedules and very detailed plans on where the train would be, sort of like an Amtrak schedule, and it’s nothing like that,” Office of Emergency Services Deputy Director Kelly Houston said.

And at least in California, it’s been nothing like what the DOT mandated.

So far, instead of “notifications regarding expected movement” as the order called for, the state’s received two weeks worth of data from BNSF about deliveries already completed.

For example in Sacramento county, BNSF data shows one such trainload of crude has traveled through this month.

“What it does tell us is that there’s not 20 trains a week coming through, but we obviously would like to have more information,” Houston said.

California refused to sign off on the non-disclosure agreements the rail lines requested for the data and has instead made it public on the state website for the office of emergency services.

“At the end of the day, giving the public more information is better than withholding information. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make,” said Houston.

Houston’s agency is trying to set up a meeting with the rail lines to improve transparency.

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