Rail spur impacts outweigh any benefits

August 11, 2015


Who doesn’t like the sound of a train whistle in the distance, or standing by and waving to an engineer as a freight train rumbles through town. So when Phillips 66 proposed a rail spur, this sounded like just a little addition to the Union Pacific (UPRR) mainline.

Well folks, that little addition is anything but; and has turned the project into a nightmare scenario. When the scope of the Phillips 66 Rail Terminal Project was presented in the RDEIR (Re-circulated Draft Environment Report); it was apparent that the project would impact not only the local refinery operations with the construction of an intrusive crude oil rail transfer facility, but every municipality and school district along the UPRR main line that the crude oil trains would pass.

What was called a benign rail spur; was in fact a huge rail yard containing five long railroad tracks fanning out to accommodate and off load 80 tanker/ mile long crude oil trains that would be coming into the refinery five days a week.

Class one impacts that impact your health

The project creates 11 class one impacts that could not be mitigated, including five directly related to air pollution:

1. Operational activities associated with the rail spur project at the refinery. would generate criteria pollutant emissions that exceed SLO County Air Quality Control District thresholds.

2. Operational activities of the additional trains along the mainline rail route outside of SLO County associated with the rail spur project would generate criteria pollutant emissions that exceed existing thresholds.

3. Operational activities at the refinery associated with the rail spur project would generate toxic emissions that exceed SLO County Air Quality Control District thresholds.

4. Operational activities of the additional trains along the mainline rail route associated with the rail spur project would generate toxic emissions that exceed existing thresholds.

5. Operational activities associated with the rail spur project would generate GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions that exceed SLO County Air Quality Control District thresholds.

The air pollution credits that Phillips 66 has acquired will not reduce any of the additional pollution created as a result of the rail spur project. Those credits are a financial slight of hand, and they will not take the additional pollutants out of the air we breathe. It’s simply an accounting maneuver.

The viability of the refinery

Phillips 66, through its spokesperson Dennis Nuss, has stated that there has been “no discussion to close the refinery if the rail spur project is not approved.”

Those refinery jobs at the Santa Maria refinery are safe. In addition, so are the property taxes that Phillips 66 pays to SLO County. Those taxes will continue to help pay for schools, police, fire protection, etc.

However, many jobs in the local oil fields could be lost if Phillips brings in oil by rail, rather than bringing in local area crude oil by pipeline. Local oil field jobs, that pay good wages and have existed since the Santa Maria refinery was built, are in jeopardy. The crude by rail strategy to source the “advantaged” (meaning cheaper) tar sands; will come from Alberta, Canada.

The scope of the project

Phillips Is minimizing the enormous scope of what they intend to bring to SLO County.
Phillips states that all they’re asking for is “five trains per week, 80 cars each.”

But each year, throughout SLO County and elsewhere, the very fabric of our lives would be changed, forever.

• 260 trains arriving + 260 trains departing = 520 additional trains traveling through SLO County.

• Each train would be a mile long often cutting off grade crossing impacting commerce and emergency vehicle response when minutes count.

• Each year the trains would haul 20,800 fully-loaded crude-oil tankers + 20,800 “empties” departing … 41,600 tankers in total. It’s worth noting that the “empties” contain residual crude, including volatile vapors that also present a danger should there be a derailment.

• Each arriving tanker would hold 27,000 gallons of volatile tar sands crude. That comes to 562,000,000 gallons … more than one-half billion gallons per year that can literally obliterate a city should there be a derailment and explosion.

Tar-sands would be coming down the tracks…it’s not the same crude that P66 now refines. Its from the Alberta tar sands region. It’s highly volatile and as dangerous as Bakken (Railway Age Magazine; 2/23/2015).

To put a potential spill in perspective, the Refugio spill was the equivalent of three tanker cars, and the cost of the cleanup is in the millions; not including the cost of lost tourism and the reputation of Santa Barbara as a tourist destination… and is still on-going months later.

The project creates countywide and statewide impacts

The project is a statewide and county issue. The reality is that Phillips is trying to make all of SLO County an epi-center for crude-by-rail … which would impact communities throughout northern and southern California along the UPRR mainline.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated one mile on each side of the tracks as a blast/evacuation zone in case of an oil train derailment. The percentage of population living in this zone for our major cities are Paso Robles at 45 percent, Atascadero at 52 percent, Templeton at 63 percent, Santa Margarita at 100 percent, San Luis Obispo at 71 percent, Pismo Beach at 37 percent, Grover Beach at 76 percent, Oceano at 88 percent and the overall county at 35 percent.

More than 56 public and private schools are in the blast zone as well as major hospitals and public safety facilities. These hospitals that are in the blast zone would have to be evacuated should there be an explosion with a debris field of toxic ash raining down; thus where would those needing treatment go?

That’s why more than 22 municipalities and school districts along the mainline including: Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Fremont, as well as the National Education Association and the local Lucia Mar Teachers Association and California Nurses Association have written letters to the SLO Planning Commission and County Supervisors in opposition to this dangerous project. Simply stated; lives matter, not profits.

Phillips 66 has repeatedly included comments in their corporate publications that higher profits from cheaper crude oil are the reason for bringing in oil by rail. This is a project that benefits the singular interests of one large multinational company, Phillips 66, the sixth largest company on the Fortune 500, while putting at risk the health, safety and financial well being of thousands of residents along the UPRR mainline.

A simple question

What are more important, higher profits for Phillips 66 shareholders, or the health and safety of you and your family? Make your voices heard. Write to your SLO County Supervisors and tell them to vote No. There is no upside to the Phillips 66 Rail Project.


The phillips jobs are secure as long as the Houston based management says they are. Phillips is the sixth largest company in the Fortune 500. They are not a non-profit. They create and cut back jobs based on business conditions. The rail project would possibly increase a handful of jobs. But at what impact to the county wide jobs. This area is a tourist based economy. Anything that sullies that image would have an impact on growth. Grover Beach is planning a hotel and convention center. With 10 trains a week,5 in and 5 out passing in from of the proposed site a developer will think twice about proceeding. Downtown SLO is undergoing a resurgent growth finally pulling out of the Great Recession. Can you imagine the devastation that a spill or derailment and a horrific explosion would do to continued growth. A recent nytimes video called 36 hours in slo county promoted the many businesses in SLO county. Why put that at risk. Remember. This is a project that would be on going for decades. Why take that bet that there won’t be an accident anywhere in the county. With more than 40 major derailments and fiery explosions in the past 2 years and a few in major down towns like Louisville Ky. There is no upside. The cities of Santa Barbra and San Luis obispo recognize the over arching impact that a fiery explosion could have on tourism based jobs and the health and welfare of their citizens and said no to the project.

Think it through mr kyaknut.


Any job in California is secure as long as management says they are, it’s called a “Right to work” state, of course except for in government where you can steal, cheat, lie, sleep around, not show up for work, and any number of other things and never worry about getting fired. So what if it is only a few jobs, we need every job we can get, except for those that feel the government should take care of them for the rest of their lives. I really don’t think a person will be thinking to themselves, “I think I’ll take the family to Pismo Beach this vacation, oh wait a minute don’t they have a Phillips 66 rail spur miles away, nope won’t do it, lets go somewhere safer”. We have had so many other things so far that have “sullied” the area’s rep, from crooked politicians to police officers who lie, to government maleficence, and yet we are told the tourism industry isn’t suffering. They are going to build a new terminal at the SLO airport , why to bring in more growth and planes. does this increase the chance for a accident, probably but should that be stopped because of it, of course not, but the increase in planes needs the proper attention to reduce the risk of an accident. This should been done with this project, make sure the proper attention is taken to reduce the risk of an accident.


Ted makes an excellent point that there are hazardous and toxic products coming down the tracks now. That being said, why invite more risk when it benefits only Phillips. There is no upside to this rail terminal project considering the potential risks. Ted however has done his homework and does have the information concerning the updated DOT117 rail cars. These cars however have not been built as yet and the NTSB has set 2023 as the timeline to get the DOT 111s off the tracks and the un jacketed cpc 1232 tankers upgraded.

Now the issue is who will pay the cost. Union Pacific provides the tracks and the locomotives. The tanker cars are either purchased by the oil companies or by independent entities that lease them out. Add to this the foot dragging on the braking systems. We will have to see what phillips says about the tanker cars. Their RDEIR specified the cpc1232 that has been prone to puncture and explosions when transporting bakken or tar sands. Their website calls their fleet the most modern. And that it may be but they are still subpar.

Thus the American petroleum institute cams the “good faith cars”. They were bought in good faith and although prone to puncture they say that they should be allowed to be on the tracks for a protracted period of time for their useful life. Simply stated Phillips made an early bad bet on purchasing these cpc 1232 cars. Reading Ted’s comments I think he’d be a terrific advocate for improving rail safety and standing up to Phillips and say while profits are important, not at any cost.


That logic, there was a car accident today that killed someone, so lets not issue anymore drivers licenses, and I guess jobs only benefit the company that creates them not the person that has the job. That’s right they don’t do things, the government does them all, weren’t we told?

Ted Slanders


In your continuous “the sky is falling” treatise, you never mentioned the elimination of more “risks” for a worse case oil train derailment scenario that the Department of Transportation has initiated as of May 1, 2015. The DOT has initiated new rulings for the transport of crude oil by rail which are significant and extensive changes to improve accident prevention.

Remember, the horrific oil train explosions that everyone is referring too, including you, that had within their trains the DOT-111 tank cars that were built to transfer non-explosive materials, and where said trains operated at 50mph? Unfortunately, we learned the hard way in not using this type of tank car to transport flammable material.


Phillips 66’s assures that they would use crude oil tank cars of post-October 2011 design, which are the CPC-1232 tank cars, and are not the aforementioned DOT-111 tank cars that are more prone to being ruptured. The CPC-1332’s are based on stronger design standards recommended by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) trade group. Those design standards feature stronger hulls and reinforced valves less likely to puncture or leak in a derailment. Under certain strenuous conditions, the CPC-1232s can still rupture, but not as easily as the DOT-111 tank cars and with the new DOT rulings.

New tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015, are required to meet the new DOT-117 design and performance criteria for even greater safety.


Under the new DOT rules, ALL “Oil Can” trains that do not meet the new DOT-117 tank car design, and until they do, have to operate at 40mph in urban areas, and not 50mph that the trains that were in the explosive derailments. Yes,10mph less does make a difference under the worse case scenario if there is a derailment with the current design of the CPC-1232 tank cars that Phillips 66 will use at this time.

Addressing the “risks” that you proffer, the above facts now reduce said risks in the transportation of crude oil to the Phillips Santa Maria refinery. One cannot reduce risks to 100 percent in any venue in the transportation of hazardous materials. Therefore, do you propose to shut down the entire State of California relative to hazardous material transportation?

Now, since you’re so concerned over the safety of dangerous materials shipped by rail through our county, AND NOT TO BE HYPOCRITICAL OF THIS CAUSE, when are you equally going to make yard sign placards for the movements of “other” hazardous materials transported by rail and by truck tankers upon our highways? I am sure you’ve heard this old adage, “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.” Yes?

A partial list of very dangerous loads that are shipped by rail tank cars and truck tankers in our area at times, and that you should be equally concerned with to your cause, to wit: Anhydrous Ammonia, Liquefied Petroleum Gas, Ethylene Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Vinyl Chloride, Anhydrous Hydrofluoric Acid, Anhydrous Ammonia Metallic Sodium Chlorine, Liquefied Hydrocarbon Gas, Motor Fuel Anti-Knock Compound Vinyl Chloride, Fertilizer Ammoniating Solution, Chlorine, Anhydrous Ammonia, Sulfur Dioxide, Butadiene, Refrigerant or Dispersant Gases, Nitrosyl Chloride, Helium Hydrogen Oxygen, Nitrogen Fertilizer Solution, Ethyl Chloride, and many other dangerous materials.

Your stance is admirable, but learn ALL of the facts beforehand on your next treatise pertaining to the safety of San Luis Obispo County.


“A partial list of very dangerous loads that are shipped by rail tank cars and truck tankers in our area at times, and that you should be equally concerned with to your cause, to wit: Anhydrous Ammonia, Liquefied Petroleum Gas, Ethylene Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Vinyl Chloride, Anhydrous Hydrofluoric Acid, Anhydrous Ammonia Metallic Sodium Chlorine, Liquefied Hydrocarbon Gas, Motor Fuel Anti-Knock Compound Vinyl Chloride, Fertilizer Ammoniating Solution, Chlorine, Anhydrous Ammonia, Sulfur Dioxide, Butadiene, Refrigerant or Dispersant Gases, Nitrosyl Chloride, Helium Hydrogen Oxygen, Nitrogen Fertilizer Solution, Ethyl Chloride, and many other dangerous materials.”

I have never seen or heard of 50 tanks of any of the above on a single train, the scale of your analogy if off.

Ted Slanders


The “analogy” of dangerous materials being transported through San Luis Obispo County stands upon it’s own. Whether these materials are in train make-ups having only one car, five, or ten cars, or more, they still exist and are as dangerous as the topic of this opinion piece, oil tank cars and tar sands. This is also barring the fact that these materials are transported by truck tanker as well.

I never mentioned 50 car trains of these dangerous materials to try and prove a point, that was your position and is irrelative to the main premise being “other” dangerous and hazardous materials are transported through our area, no matter in what volumn they do so.


Life has risks…deal with it is not an answer. If you can remove that risk that is an ever present danger than you do so. Especially when it has impacts county and state wide. As for asking where’s the proof that tar sands is the type of crude that would be transported; it (the draft environmental report) specifies that the crude will be coming from the northern fields in Alberta which is tar sands. For this who write in support of the Project and say the refinery has been there, well the rail project is an entirely new business entity. It was never there before. Read the DREIR.


Folks. The crude that would come in is as dangerous as bakken. Read the posts. It’s tar sands. The opposition is up and own the mainline. 22 municipalities including San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Are all these folks wrong to voice their objection to this crude by rail strategy of Phillips. These are not retired bored activists as was posted. These are intelligent members of their communities who care about the health and welfare and test the economic interests of their communities. The amount of crude that is refined at the smr is but .02% of the total refining capacity of Phillips. 48000/2,200,000 barrels a day ( Phillips annual report). So don’t yelp that it’s all about oil independence. Their main output at the smr is petcoke and sulfur. Final refining is at their sister refinery in Rodeo. it’s about profits and not jobs. Profits are not a bad thing but at what expense.


I heard the term “Bomb Train” and started to wonder, what is the energy equivalent of 80 rail cars full of 27,000 gallons of oil. A google search provided info that a barrel of oil is equivalent to 1.5 tons of TNT. If a rail car has 27,000 gallons, that is 642 barrels of oil per rail car. This gives an energy equivalent of 964 tons of TNT. If you have a train made up of 80 railcars, you get a total of 77,000 tons of TNT.

The A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was 15,000 tons of TNT.

So each train is equivalent to 5 Hiroshimas. Something to consider.

Ted Slanders


False premise, this is because ALL of the cars would have to ignite at the same exact moment and be above ground, like your inference to the Hiroshima nuclear bomb drop, to equal the total “perceived’ damage.


False until a train rolls down the cuesta grade and crashes at speed. there is also a high pressure gas pipe line along the tracks south of the grade.

Can you say Lac-Mégantic http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/quebecexplosion.html

Ted Slanders


With the new DOT rulings out at this time, and with the future safety requirements for all unit oil tank car trains, your scenario will probably only happen on the day that the following entities happen.

You will be wearing blue underwear, the time is 2:07 pm, there is a thunderstorm happening, then on this day, George Bush admits that he can’t sleep at night anymore because he is coming to terms with his disastrous decision in evading Iraq under faulty intel, and where the Moon is not going through it’s phases anymore, and last but not least, on this specific day, all Bronze Age religions are jettisoned for the sake of all mankind! Well?


Neither of these writers probably lived here when the coast line had heavy rail traffic, including many oil trains. Almost all of this traffic was shifted to the San Joaquin Valley for cost savings. The coast line remains Class 5 or 6 mainline with passenger service. The opponents of energy independence constantly compare this to the poor condition short lines in West Virginia and Canada where there were clear regulatory lapses. That’s just not going to happen here. Union Pacific is a first-class operation and California is not shy on regulation.


Shouldn’t an “opinion” piece at least state who the writers represent and where they live???


I happen to live by the train tracks and experience the oil tankers going through at all times of the day – sometimes in the middle of the night. The trains in our area are coming and going from the San Ardo oil fields. I do worry about the possibility of derailed train cars, explosions and safety for sure. Nothing bad has happened, but there is always the possibility that it could.

I agree with you all that good paying jobs are needed in this county for sure, but I would not be in favor of increased rail activity simply due to the high percentage of residences, schools and emergency services within the 1 mile blast zone.