The City Council heard safety concerns involving crude oil trains, some of them using tracks just a block from City Hall.
Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman briefed the council Tuesday night on the trains, which carry oil from the Bakken shale deposits in North Dakota to refineries in California and elsewhere.
A series of spills and explosions, including a 2013 derailment and blast that killed 47 people in Quebec, have raised concerns in Turlock and nearby towns.
Lohman said he is trying to gather information, including the scheduling for the Bakersfield-bound trains and plans for dealing with an accident.
“The simple answer is, no, we don’t know, and we wouldn’t be able to manage something like this,” he said. “We would have to rely on (outside) resources.”
The North Dakota Petroleum Council, representing the booming oil industry in that state, contends that the trains are safe. It points to a 2014 study that refutes claims that Bakken crude is more explosive than other oil.
“The study confirmed that Bakken is a light, sweet crude with low corrosivity, and that it may be hauled safely using existing ... tank cars under current federal specifications,” the council said on its website.
Lohman said oil trains use the Union Pacific Railroad, which passes through Turlock’s thriving downtown, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, just east of the city. Modesto, Hughson, Riverbank, Escalon and Merced are among the other cities on the routes.
A national report from McClatchy News Service said spills involving the trains, which averaged 21,000 gallons per year from 1975 to 2012, topped 1 million gallons in 2013.
Lohman said the railroads carry foam designed to contain spills, and he is looking into other measures that could be taken. BNSF has offered to train local firefighters at a three-day class in Colorado Springs, he said.
The chief noted one advantage: The tracks through Turlock are straight and flat, which reduces the risk of derailment.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, who attended the council meeting, said he has worked to ensure oil train safety as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
He said he is waiting on the Obama administration to carry out new standards for making the tank cars safer.
Also Tuesday, the council:
▪ Voted 5-0 to apply for a $585,627 federal grant that would help with the cost of adding three firefighters to the city department.
The grant would cover salaries and benefits for two years. Lohman said the city likely will be able to pay for the employees beyond that based on projections of tax revenue.
The new firefighters would fill vacancies at Station 3 in northeast Turlock, which have been covered through overtime at an annual cost of $210,000. The city would spend about $20,000 to train and equip the new hires, which would boost the force to 45.
The grant would come from a $340 million fund at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
▪ Voted 5-0 to apply for a $125,000 state grant to add a children’s playground and exercise equipment to Swanson Centennial Park, along Countryside Drive. The money would come from the state’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. The city would contribute an equal amount.
▪ Recognized the women’s soccer team at California State University, Stanislaus, for reaching the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.