Chief to put focus on toxic trains

Fearing a potential chemical spill from rail cars stored near the Caltrain station, Fire Chief Phillip White will head to Sacramento this week in an effort to get railroad operators to shoulder the costs of emergency evacuation training.

City officials learned late last year that Union Pacific is storing anywhere from three to 20 cars containing hazardous materials on sidetracks in the area at any given time. Each can hold as much as 28,000 gallons of toxic and potentially combustible chemicals such as ethyl alcohol, toluene and methyl bromide, according to officials. “That’s four to five times the amount of a semitanker truck,” White said.

He will testify Wednesday at the state Capitol in support of a bill, SB 351, authored by state Sen. Nell Soto, D-Ontario, that would require railroad operators to reimburse local governments for the cost of developing and implementing evacuation plans should a spill occur.

Union Pacific opposes the bill. “We do not support it, because [evacuation training] is already something we provide free of charge,” spokesman Mark Davis said.

While Union Pacific does offer free training for firefighters, it does not pay the $6,000 in overtime and expenses per firefighter to train them, White said. Nevertheless, he plans to send up to two firefighters next fiscal year.

South San Francisco stands to gain as much as $60,000 a year if Soto’s bill becomes law, White estimates. He plans to use the cash to develop a plan similar to the one Contra Costa County has for refinery spills, with established drills, equipment and warning systems.

Just as worrisome as the 60,000 people who could be affected by a spill is the impact on biotech and their support firms, which could hurt both the economy and patients needing medication, White said.

“This legislation is trying to get ahead of the next accident,” said Jackie Rutheiser, legislative aide to Soto. U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, has also attempted to pressure Union Pacific to increase security near the cars and help pay for firefighter training for toxic spills, so far to no avail.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Chelsea Hung, who owns Washington Bakery and Restaurant in Chinatown with her mother, said the restaurant is only making about 30 percent of pre-pandemic revenues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chinatown’s slow recovery has business owners fearing for the future

Lack of outside visitors threatens to push neighborhood into ‘downward spiral’

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and members of the orchestra were thrilled to be back inside Davies Symphony Hall on May 6 in a program for first responders featuring string works by Jean Sibelius, George Walker, Carl Nielsen, Caroline Shaw and Edward Grieg. (Courtesy Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Symphony)
SF Symphony makes joyful return to Davies Hall

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts program for first responders and community leaders

Students in an after-school community hub move quickly through a social circle as they play a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Parents scramble for ‘Summer Together’ spaces

City program offering free camps sees high demand, confusion over enrollment

Jazz pianist and composer Jon Jang is an instructor at Community Music Center in the Mission District. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Jon Jang composes bittersweet symphonies

Musician-activist’s works are steeped in civil rights history

Keith Doran, left, and the author celebrate a short but successful outing on El Capitan. (Courtesy photo)
Climb on: 50 lessons in 50 years, part 3

Series offers tips for adventurers seeking fulfillment outdoors

Most Read