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2011 CPUC Annual Report: Rail Operations

Railroad Safety

The CPUC employs federally certified inspectors to ensure that railroads comply with federal railroad safety regulations. The CPUC’s railroad safety federal and state participation program is the largest in the nation. The CPUC’s railroad operations safety work responsibilities include:

  • Inspecting railroads for compliance with state and federal railroad safety;
  • Investigating rail accidents and safety related complaints;
  • Recommending rail safety improvements to the CPUC and federal government; and,
  • Ensuring efficient enforcement of rail safety requirements.

Implementing the Rail Safety Improvement Act

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) by 2016 on all routes that share track with passenger trains and on all freight mainlines over which poison- or toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials are transported. The CPUC is working closely with the Federal Railroad Administration in the implementation of this significant piece of legislation, including participation in the Rail Safety Advisory Committees for PTC and for System Safety Program Plans. Metrolink and Union Pacific voluntarily pledged to implement PTC on Union Pacific Railroad – Metrolink joint operation track by the end of 2012. In 2011, the CPUC continued to work with the FRA in PTC oversight, including oversight of Class I and commuter railroads in the Los Angeles Basin in their effort to achieve PTC implementation.

Railroad Inspections

The CPUC works to ensure that railroad locomotives and equipment and facilities are inspected at least once every 180 days, and that all main and branch line tracks are inspected at least once each year. During fiscal year 2010- 2011, CPUC rail safety staff inspectors inspected 21,662 units of equipment (a unit is one locomotive or one car) and 12,399 miles of track. In addition, the CPUC conducted 866 inspections at facilities that handle hazardous materials (39,561 hazardous materials inspection units), conducted 768 inspections (6,113 units), and inspected 6,515 units of signal and train control systems. The CPUC also responded to 32 complaints from railroad employees and the public during the same time period.

Hazardous Materials/Security Inspections

The CPUC conducted a variety of activities related to rail transportation of hazardous materials in 2011, including unannounced inspections at various types of facilities that handle hazardous materials, such as shipper facilities, consignees, freight forwarders, intermodal transportation companies, and railroads. The CPUC staff investigates accidents and incidents involving the actual and/or threatened release of hazardous materials to determine root cause and identify corrective actions needed to safely transport hazardous materials. The most dramatic incident occurred in August 2011, when a tank car loaded with nearly 30,000 gallons of propane caught on fire in Lincoln, Calif. Explosion of a propane-laden tank car could have resulted in significant property damage and loss of life. One of the CPUC’s Hazardous Materials Inspectors was designated as Inspector in Charge of the CPUC and Federal Railroad Administration response, coordinating information flow between emergency responders and the regulatory agencies during the incident. The incredible response of the emergency responders and railroad hazardous materials specialist allowed the fire to be extinguished without loss of life or significant property damage. The CPUC is focusing on identifying the root cause of the fire, needed safety improvements at the propane facility related to the rail cars, and possible new safety regulations that can be applied industry-wide.

High-Speed Rail Systems

The CPUC will provide safety oversight in the planning, development, construction, and operation of the California High-Speed Rail project. The CPUC will be proactively involved in the early stages in order to address problems before they become entrenched either by construction or operational commitments. In 2011, the CPUC began formulating a safety oversight approach with the railroads that will utilize new technologies that will be employed on the California High-Speed Rail system.

Promoting Rail Safety via Public Education

In 2011, CPUC employees continued their participation in volunteer activities for Operation Lifesaver, an international organization committed to reducing the number of grade crossing and trespasser related accidents through education, enforcement, and engineering. CPUC employees provided presentations to schools and community groups and raised public awareness of safety measures that should be taken near railroad tracks. The CPUC’s bilingual presenters ensured that this safety message was communicated to a larger audience. In 2011, Operation Lifesaver-certified presenters from the CPUC educated more than 10,000 people through 191 presentations and 12 events.


Last Modified: 11/6/2012

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