Approximately 80 tank cars capable of holding nearly three million gallons of LPG — liquefied petroleum gas, similar to propane — are stored just south of town. Instead of keeping this flammable material at a refinery, the Northcoast Railroad Authority and Sonoma-Marin Rapid Transit profit by allowing highly combustible material to be warehoused in railroad cars along Arnold Drive.
Accidents happen! Since the late 19th century explosions in the Bay Area have killed and injured scores of people. Property damage has been extensive. In 1879 an explosion at the Giant Powder Plant in San Francisco killed four. In 1883 an explosion at the Giant Powder Plant in Albany (site of the current racetrack) killed 37 Chinese workers and a supervisor. Later, within a 38-year period, 59 deaths occurred at the Hercules Powder Company across from Vallejo.
In 2004 a Walnut Creek gas pipe explosion killed five workers. In San Bruno (2010) a faulty natural gas line exploded. Eight people were killed and 38 homes destroyed. PG&E was fined $1.6 billion for failure to maintain the pipeline.
In the 1970s this writer witnessed a situation where a Japanese firm asked to build an LNG (liquid natural gas) facility north of Santa Barbara/Goleta. The Firefighters Union and the County Fire Chief registered strong objections because of the danger and volatility of LNG. Santa Barbara County Supervisors rejected the project.
If a loaded tank car in Schellville caught fire and exploded would it ignite the other 79 cars in a huge conflagration? What if a domestic terrorist attacked the cars? How far beyond Schellville would the inferno reach? As far as Sonoma? If 2.6 million gallons of LPG exploded, how high on the Richter Scale would it register?
The truth is there is no way to predict the extent of destruction and loss of life. These LPG tankers must go. It’s time for citizens to act. Support the efforts of Supervisor Susan Gorin in opposing the storage of these rail cars near Sonoma. The Federal Transportation Agency oversees the use of the train tracks. Congressman Mike Thompson should be able to articulate community concerns to the FTA regarding this issue.
Tom Martin, Sonoma