SAN JOSE (BCN) — Two Santa Clara County supervisors expressed their disapproval of a Southern California project that would allow trains carrying oil to travel through their densely populated county.
Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Ken Yeager said they support a resolution against a proposed rail spur extension project in San Luis Obispo County during a news conference in San Jose Monday afternoon.
The project would allow up to five trains a week carrying more than 2 million gallons of crude oil to travel through Santa Clara County in a week, Chavez said.
The route would run through 40 miles of the county in Milpitas, downtown San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and unincorporated communities, Chavez said.
The project would have an option to use Caltrain from San Francisco to downtown San Jose, she said.
“A hundred years ago rail lines were going through prairies. Now they’re going through communities where people live, work, play and worship,” Chavez said.
The trains’ final destination would be the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery near Nipomo, an unincorporated community in San Luis Obispo County, where the Houston, Texas-based company is considering building an oil unloading facility.
With nearly 2 million residents, Santa Clara County is a more densely populated area than elsewhere on the route, Yeager said.
In addition to the human impact an oil train derailment would have, there would also be environmental consequences on air and soil quality and an already limited water supply, Yeager said.
The news conference was held near Union Pacific Railroad tracks on North Eighth and East Taylor streets, the site of a train derailment on March 10 near three apartment complexes, Yeager said.
Luckily, the involved train car was empty but Yeager said it was proof that derailments do happen in the county.
“If the car had been full of crude oil, the likelihood of an explosion would’ve been very high,” Yeager said.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a resolution against the proposal during its Tuesday meeting.
If the resolution is passed, the county plans to detail their opposition to the project in a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
The project would pose a higher risk for oil spills, fires and explosions, according to a revised draft environmental impact report issued last year.
A Department of Transportation report indicated that a train derailment in urban areas such as San Jose could kill more than 200 people and result in $6 billion in damage, Yeager said.
There have been five significant train derailments so far this year nationwide spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil, county fire Chief Kenneth Kehmna said.
One case in point was a derailment in Quebec, Canada, where a 72-car train led to multiple explosions, spilled 1.5 million gallons of oil and killed 47 people, Kehmna said.
The Santa Clara County Fire Chiefs’ Association has also written a letter to San Luis Obispo County officials for additional information, training and equipment to keep the county safe should the project move forward, Kehmna said.
Palo Alto fire Chief Eric Nickel, president of the fire chiefs’ association, said Phillips should provide the resources to train county fire personnel instead of billing taxpayers.
In an email Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said, “We remain committed to safety and to our proposal. We understand that there may be opposition to the rail project, and we look forward to San Luis Obispo County providing responses to all issues that are raised and addressing them in compliance with CEQA.”