Oil

Saturday, May 17 2014 08:59 PM

A patchwork of agencies responsible for oil train safety

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield High School is seen in the background behind the rail cars that go through town as viewed from the overpass on Oak Street.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Sean Collins, Kern County Fire Department's public information officer, talks about the new PUC (Pierce Ultimate Configuration) fire truck in this file photo.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Because oil shipments from North Dakota to California qualify as interstate commerce, primary oversight responsibility falls to the federal government. But in practice, many state and local agencies also have a hand in preventing, preparing for or responding to oil spill accidents.

Here's a look at some of the government agencies most prominently involved:

FEDERAL

*The Federal Rail Administration develops and enforces rail safety rules, including train operations and tank car construction standards. It oversees signal regulations and track inspection audits.

*The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration works to ensure safe movement of hazardous materials, including crude oil. It enacts rules, tracks data, conducts inspections and issues permits.

*The Department of Homeland Security assesses rail safety risks, tracking hazardous materials shipments and conducting training on rail security. Its Transportation Security Administration funds special rail safety initiatives.

*The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent, investigative agency without enforcement authority. Its recommendations are intended to prevent future accidents and set safety priorities.

STATE

*Caltrans handles transportation issues including freight rail planning. Its Division of Transportation Planning has a Freight Planning branch that develops strategies and policies to improve rail freight rail transportation.

*The California Transportation Commission influences freight rail operations in the state by helping allocate state bond money to reduce traffic congestion, allow smooth shipment of goods and enhance safety.

*The California Public Utilities Commission has regulatory and safety authority over freight and passengers railroads in the state. Its inspectors help the Federal Rail Administration enforce various federal railroad safety rules. The agency also reviews the safety of certain rail projects and recommends measures to reduce any negative impacts.

*The Office of Spill Prevention and Response works to protect the state's natural resources against oil and other hazardous materials spills. Its involvement with oil shipments has focused on marine terminals, as most of California's oil deliveries have historically arrived by ocean. But this year, in recognition of increasing crude shipments by rail, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed expanding the agency's responsibilities to inland oil deliveries as well. His plan has not been approved by either house of the state Legislature, which faces a June 15 deadline to act on it.

*The Governor's Office of Emergency Services partners with local agencies around the state to enhance safety and preparedness. It coordinates state resources in support of city- and county-level first responders.

LOCAL

*The Kern County Fire Department and the Bakersfield Fire Department send trained personnel to rail emergencies threatening public safety, property or the environment. Typically the first responders, they often coordinate with outside departments, such as fire agencies in Tulare, Kings or Los Angeles counties, to bring in additional resources. They also work with other agencies to prevent and prepare for such accidents.

*The Kern County Planning and Development Department reviews and guides permitting of private-sector projects including recent proposals to build local facilities for offloading oil shipments by rail.

*Individual schools have their own emergency protocols, such as evacuation plans.

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