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More On Train Blockages
March 5, 2003

In the E-FORUM of February 28, 2003, Railroad Grade Crossing Blockages, http://www.tombutt.com/forum/030228c.htm, I conveyed the understanding that blockages are limited by PUC Rule 135 to 10 minutes. That may not be accurate in all cases.

County Supervisor John Gioia, a resident of Marina Bay responded:

"I have been working, as County Supervisor, on the issue of blockages at railroad crossings, specifically, the very long delays at the Marina Bay Parkway crossing.  I have involved Contra Costa County in this issue since the long blockages are now a health and safety issue.  As you know, Contra Costa County has responsibility for the county's emergency medical system, which includes ambulance service.   Access in and out of Marina Bay is severely impacted by the long delays, often exceeding 20 minutes."

"California PUC General Order 135 prohibits a public grade crossing from being blocked more than 10 minutes by a stopped train or by train swtiching movements.   General Order 135 apparently does not apply to "moving trains".   Federal Railroad Administration regulations prohibit a moving train from blocking a public grade crossing for more than 20 minutes."

"The long blockages at Marina Bay Parkway are due to the nearly one mile long BNSF trains which move containers between Richmond and the Port of Oakland.   Since these are usually "moving" trains, they unfortunately are not subject to General Order 135's 10 minute rule.  Instead they appear to be subject to the federal 20 minute rule.  I have spoken to the BNSF's new

Terminal Manager who has advised me that the amount of train traffic will increase by the end of the year.    He stated that it takes 20 - 25 minutes for a one mile long train to cross Marina Bay Parkway because of the 5 MPH speed limit through that area.  He indicated that they are working to improve the track in order to increase the speed limit to 10 MPH, which would cut in half the blockage time."

"I intend to ask the Contra Costa County District Attorney to be aggressive about bringing misdemeanor charges against BNSF for any violations of General Order 135. I am also working with the Contra Costa County Health Department on this issue.   We will be looking further into what options exist for resolving this very serious issue. Any residents who can document the long delays should contact my office by calling (510) 374-3231 or by email to dist1@bos.co.contra-costa.ca.us."

As an example of the problem, I received the following from a Richmond resident:

"Today (February 27, 2003) I watched from the top of Nichol Knob in Point Richmond, as a BNSF train heading Northwest from the Port of Richmond area toward the BNSF Richmond Rail Yards, blocked off four city streets for approximately 40 minutes or more.  At approximately 12:30 pm the train, headed Northwest, crossed Cutting Blvd, then proceeded toward the Rail Yard, blocking three additional streets, including the Richmond Parkway at Garrard, Ohio Ave, and another street (4th possibly).  The train was so long that when the engine was in the northern portion of the BNSF Yard (near Peres School) the tail of the train had not yet crossed Cutting Blvd. I would estimate that the train was transporting in excess of 100 flatcars behind three engines, and was moving at a very slow pace, sometimes not at all. I canít help but think what would happen if there had been some emergency in the area, especially during a period of congestion on 580, with all of the primary thoroughfares in and out of the Point Richmond area blocked by a single train."

I responded to John Gioia as follows:

"You may want to look into paragraph 9 of Rule 135 wherein the City (or maybe the County) can petition the PUC for specific changes at specific crossings. Several years ago, the City petitioned the PUC to reduce the time at the West Richmond Avenue crossing to 5 minutes. When the case came before the ALJ, the City and BNSF entered into a settlement agreement that produced the agreement at the end of my previous email. Wayne Nishioka is our assistant city attorney who has handled all the railroad litigation.It may be that because the container trains are just going from Richmond to Oakland, they are not interstate commerce, and the PUC can trump the FRA."

I am also going to ask the Richmond City Attorney to research remedies that may be available to deal with this growing problem.