By Nate Gartrell Contra Costa Times
The council also explored ways that the city could “put pressure,” on BNSF, the primary railroad company operating in the city, and ways it could advertise the company’s 1-800 number, to encourage members of the public to voice any railroad-related complaints directly to BNSF.
City Manager Bryan Montgomery, who led the session along with Councilwoman Diane Burgis, acknowledged that the city has no official power to control the railroad whatsoever, but he and Burgis emphasized that other cities had successfully voiced concerns to the railroad with active lines of communication, and persistence.
“As a resident, when you don’t feel listened to, you get frustrated,” Burgis said. “And so, I would like to put a little bit of pressure on BNSF to be more responsive.”
Burgis spoke about one recent incident, when BNSF had a train blocking an intersection for more than an hour, as a reason for why the session was held. She also said that she was concerned about loud horn noises near residential areas. Railroad engineers are required to blow their horns near intersections as a matter of safety, but they can sometimes get too “creative,” with their horn blowing, she said.
Some cities, like Martinez, have successfully implemented “quiet zones,” which limit the parameters for when railroad engineers may blow their horns. But such zones require a hefty investment — just doing a preliminary study costs $30,000, according to a city staff report. And that cost has been deemed too expensive by city officials.
Burgis said that BNSF provided the city with a list of materials that are being transported through Oakley in coming months, and agreed to hold a training session with local emergency response teams, to help the city to better prepare for any emergencies caused by rail accidents. She also said that BNSF has spoken with city staff, and that has been helpful. But she encouraged the public to complain to BNSF directly if any issues come up, and the council pledged to research ways to advertise the railroad company’s general phone line, which is 1-800-832-5452.