Plans by an oil company to run hundreds of trains carrying highly-explosive oil across Los Angeles were protested at the city’s center Saturday.
About 200 people attended a “rally and teach in” today at Los Angeles Union Station to protest plans by the Phillips 66 Company to bring in oil trains from Canada, organizers said. The rail cars carry a type of oil derived from tar sands that has exploded with disastrous results in rail accidents.
Phillips 66 has a request in with San Luis Obispo County officials to add rail unloading facilities to its existing refinery near Nipomo, 55 miles northwest of Santa Barbara. The refinery currently gets oil via pipeline from California oil fields, but diminishing sources of cheap local crude have prompted Phillips to seek to import oil via rail.
The oil company proposes up to 260 mile-long trains per year, traversing Union Pacific tracks either through Los Angeles or East Bay cities near San Francisco. In Southern California, the trains would use UP and Metrolink tracks across eastern L.A. County, along the L.A. River and then across the San Fernando Valley from Burbank to Chatsworth.
Phillips says its Santa Maria Refinery has a 60-year safety record, has won numerous safety awards, and will need to ship in oil via rail if it is to remain commercially viable. And it has shipped petroleum products by rail for years.
And oil industry experts have said Californians pay about 50 cents per gallon more than other Americans because of the isolated nature of the California oil sector.
But opponents said today the refinery’s oil by rail plan would mean a 4,000 percent increase in tanker car traffic, and the incoming oil is far more dangerous than what has moved in California by rail before now.
“This is a health and safety issue for the City of Los Angeles,” said protest organizer Jack Eidt. “What’s the use of spending $1 billion to revitalize our L.A. River when it could be despoiled by a fiery oil spill?”
Alicia Rivera, with Communities for a Better Environment, said the oil trains will endanger low income residents who are forced by market pressures to live near railroad tracks.
Phillips 66 plans to import oil using 80-car-long trains, nearly 1-1/2 miles long, and as many as five full trains could arrive each week. The company has not said if the trains would traverse Union Pacific’s tracks through Los Angeles or the Bay Area, or both.
UP’s Central Coast and transcontinental tracks connect to Metrolink tracks in Southern California, and the freight company has the legal right to run trains on the passenger line’s trackage.
Thirty-two people were killed in Quebec when a similar train derailed in a freak accident in 2013, and an entire village was blown up. Phillips 66 plans to use newer, safer rail cars, the company said, but opponents said those have also blown up in several recent disasters.
—City News Service
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