The Union Pacific Railroad Company will take greater care in handling the hazardous freight it hauls through San Bernardino County and at the Inland Valley and two desert rail yards it maintains as the result of a lawsuit settlement brought against it.
That lawsuit, a so-called toxic tort/environmental action filed as a civil rather than a criminal complaint against the Union Pacific Railroad as the primary subsidiary of Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific Corporation, had four plaintiffs: the district attorney’s offices of Placer, Nevada, San Joaquin and San Bernardino counties. The matter was filed as a multi-jurisdictional dispute in Placer County Superior Court and heard in the courtroom of Placer County Superior Court Judge Alan Pineschi in Roseville.
The Union Pacific’s J.R. Davis Yard, formerly known as the Roseville Marshalling Yard, is located in Placer County and is the largest rail yard on the West Coast, according to Union Pacific.
The heavy legal lifting in the suit was done by Placer County Deputy District Attorney Beverly Crue, who was assisted by prosecutors from the other three counties, including San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Rick Lal, who works in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office’s consumer and environmental protection unit.
In San Bernardino County the Union Pacific operates the Colton Rail Yard, which lies south of the 10 Freeway in both the unincorporated county area of Bloomington as well as in west Colton, and rail yards in unincorporated Kelso in the Mojave National Preserve and in Yermo, in the Mojave Desert east of Barstow.
Previously, the Union Pacific was in violation of the Aboveground Petroleum Storage Act. Along the railroad tracks and in its storage yards there were unreported spills of hazardous waste, improperly labeled hazardous waste drums and leaks from equipment. At the rail yards, storage tanks were not being inspected by those trained, qualified and licensed to do so.
The suit specifically alleged the company mishandled hazardous wastes and materials in storage tanks, failed to keep accurate hazardous material records, maintained inaccurate hazardous material business plans and spilled hazardous substances and fuel over an eight-year period.
On December 19, the plaintiffs and Union Pacific reached a settlement calling upon the railroad company to pay $2.3 million and make changes in how it handles hazardous waste at its rail yards. One requirement under the settlement is that Union Pacific will hire a hazardous materials handling regulation compliance officer who is to ensure the proper disposal, labeling and storage of hazardous waste; keep records of shipments of hazardous waste; train employees about handling the waste; and prepare a plan and implement measures to prevent spills
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said Union Pacific has already hired a compliance officer assigned to San Bernardino County.
The settlement includes $2 million in civil penalties and $313,432.41 to reimburse counties for the cost of investigations. San Bernardino County’s share of the settlement is $480,000.
According to Union Pacific’s spokeswoman, Hannah Bolte, the past violations were primarily attributable to employees she did not identify.
“Union Pacific took immediate action after learning about the hazardous material regulatory claims,” Bolte said. “We pinpointed the main source of the problem to personnel issues, which we addressed immediately. We have hired a third party environmental compliance officer to monitor and report our compliance with environmental laws and regulations. We cooperated fully with the district attorneys in four California counties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve these claims, and we have taken necessary steps to prevent future recurrences.”