California Professional Firefighters

Gov. Brown signs bill to fund oil-by-rail incident response

A pair of recently signed bills should give California’s first responders a leg up when it comes to dealing with oil-by-rail disasters.

Over the weekend, Gov. Brown signed Assembly Bill 1476, an omnibus budget bill that includes a $10 million loan to Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) for “regional railroad accident preparedness.” The bill was strongly backed by the California Professional Firefighters, the California Fire Chiefs Association and the Fire Districts Association of California.

Using this loan, CalOES can now provide funding to improve local emergency response systems for the purpose of dealing with accidents, spills, fires, and explosions involving oil and other hazardous materials transported by train.

“We’re pleased to see that Gov. Brown has signed AB 1476,” said Lou Paulson, president of CPF. “With more and more oil entering the state by rail, it’s imperative that our first responders have the resources they need to deal with major incidents.”

In only the past few years, the likelihood of oil-by-rail incidents has increased dramatically across California.

According to the American Association of Railroads, the number of railcars carrying crude oil on major freight railroads in the United States grew by more than 6,000 percent between 2008 and 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council says transportation of crude by rail in California has increased from 45,000 barrels in 2009 to more than six million in 2013.

According to CalOES, oil-by-rail incidents increased nearly nine-fold between 2011 and 2013. Through the first five months of 2014, California had seen almost as many incidents – 24 – as it had in all of 2013.

Last week, Gov. Brown also signed Assembly Bill 380, which requires railroad companies to provide more information about hazardous cargo to CalOES, establishes a call center that first responders can contact for information and grants local access to railroads’ hazardous-material emergency response plans.