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A Union Pacific train derailed near Belden on Nov. 25, 2014, resulting in a massive cleanup of grain. Officials worry about what would happen with something more volatile. Photo by Jerry Sipe

County officials take steps to address rail safety in Plumas County

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

As the Canyon walls continue to slip and slide, and in light of the recent train derailment in Ohio, Plumas County residents can’t help but ask: What if it happens here?

We all know that it has happened here, most recently earlier this winter with a train carrying grain down the Feather River Canyon, but what if it were something more volatile?

Back in 2014 that issue came to the forefront when the county learned that the highly volatile Baaken oil would be transported through the area by the rail carrier, BNSF. This resulted in a flurry of meetings, trainings and plans to deal with the potential hazard.

Over the years, plans have been tweaked, and next month county leaders are meeting to ensure the county is as prepared as possible. The county’s Office of Emergency Services Coordinator, Pam Courtright, said that in preparation, the county is receiving manifestos for what the rail lines transport through the county. UP (Union Pacific) has already provided such a list and Courtright is requesting one for BNSF (Burlington Northern).

District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss would like to see the railroads send a representative to the board of supervisors to discuss what they transport and how they plan to ensure that it’s transported safely. Goss, whose district includes the Feather River Canyon, said that he “really has concerns” about the situation, especially following the Dixie Fire. In the aftermath of the Dixie, the canyon walls have become even more unstable. “It would be catastrophic,” he said. “That (the Feather River) represents the number one watershed for the state. Can they tell us what they’re doing to protect California’s watershed?”

And it’s not just the Feather River Canyon, rail tracks run through, or by, virtually every community in the county, each vulnerable to some degree.

Plumas isn’t alone with its concerns, national leaders have taken notice in the aftermath of the Ohio derailment. A bipartisan group of senators have put forth a new bill known as the Railway Safety Act of 2023 that would require rail carriers to notify emergency authorities when hazardous materials are being transported through their area and develop a plan in the event a gas such as vinyl chloride is discharged. It would also implement speed restrictions, track standards, maintenance, issue detection and more.

Supervisor Goss said that the railroads have installed some screen systems in the canyon’s most avalanche prone areas that can detect falling debris. But he wants to know what else is being done to prevent a disaster.

Plumas News thought it would be interesting to look back on what transpired when Baaken oil was first introduced to the local rail system. Attached are two stories that were published by Feather Publishing at the time that addressed the response. More information will be shared with Plumas County residents as it becomes available.

Changes in the nation

State and federal agencies gather in Plumas

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