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Federal, local legislators talk rail issues
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Congressman Jeff Denham (R Turlock) discusses issues unique to rail transportation with the Acting Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration Sarah Feinberg at the Modesto Transportation Center on Tuesday.

There is more crude oil being moved by rail across the United States than ever before said Acting Administrator for the Federal Railroad Association Sarah Feinberg on Tuesday at the Modesto Transportation Center.

Congressman and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Jeff Denham (R – Turlock) hosted Feinberg for a discussion on rail safety precipitated by crude oil rail accidents that have caused some alarm in communities, including Turlock. Crude oil is transported through Turlock and Fire Chief Tim Lohman said the City’s firefighters are not adequately prepared to handle an emergency of this nature at a Turlock City Council meeting in March.

In response to these discussions the City is sending six firefighters to a specialized hazardous materials training at the Security and Emergency Training Center in Colorado.

“What we’re trying to do is work with the federal railroad administration to find out exactly what hazardous materials are coming through Turlock and when so that we can be prepared,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth, who met with Denham and Feinberg in a closed session meeting on Tuesday.

The boom in oil production in North Dakota has been the impetus behind the increase in crude oil on rails with 4,000 percent more oil being transported in the past five years than before said Feinberg. While there are three different ways to transport crude oil – through the pipelines, by truck and by rail – Feinberg estimates 70 percent of the oil is moved by rail because the pipelines are at capacity and it has proved the most flexible option.

The transportation of people as well as oil has been a topic of conversation in recent months as the Altamont Corridor Express could eventually be connected to Turlock in future years.

“ACE is probably one of the most efficient rail entities in the entire country. They are moving more than 1 million passengers every year incredible efficiently. They have an on-time performance of 95 percent, which is really incredible for rail,” said Feinberg. “Given the rail congestion and the things that can throw off your on-time performance, ACE has just performed really incredible well.”

While no formal timeline has been established, Soiseth expressed interest in seeing the project become a reality for Turlock’s transportation center at the intersection of Golden State Boulevard, Fulkerth Avenue and Dels Lane.

“There are a lot of details to hash out on the ACE train, but I’m supportive of the concept and think it would be a great addition to the transportation hub we have,” said Soiseth.

Long-term plans include the potential creation of a pedestrian bridge over Golden State Boulevard to link to the ACE train alongside the rail road tracks. The ACE train presently takes passengers from as far west as Stockton eastward to San Jose.

“The idea is that this could be a regional transit location for public and private transportation needs,” said Associate Civil Engineer Stephen Fremming in January when plans for a 6,000 square foot building were submitted to the City to develop the second phase of the center predominantly focusing on bus transportation.

Denham said he is a proponent of the expansion and is “working to not only have loans available at the federal level,  but also to collaborate with local government to make sure that we’re funding this to bring this new station to fruition.”