Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fast Repair

Great Job!

Hopefully the same speed will apply to getting the bike trail open again.

Trains using new trestle 12 days after huge blaze
As second rail line is built, questions remain on cause of fire and its toxic effects.
By Tony Bizjak - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Freight trains rumbled again through Sacramento on Tuesday along Union Pacific's newly constructed main line, a scant 12 days after a key trestle burned to the ground in a suspicious blaze.

And while UP's rebuilding effort received kudos as an impressive display of engineering muscle, company spokesman Mark Davis shrugged it off as typical yeoman's work to bring a vital freight corridor back on track.

"I've seen (UP) put together trestles over the years in remarkable time," a laconic Davis said from the agency's Omaha, Neb., headquarters. "This isn't unusual."

Yet even as the first trains crossed the concrete and steel structure, questions loomed in the aftermath of the March 15 fire:

The cause is unknown, the full threat of the fire's plumes of black smoke remains unmeasured, and initial results of state testing showed high levels of toxics in soil at the site of the fire.

More than 100 people have called the Sacramento Fire Department's special tip line as part of the investigation, fire Capt. Jim Doucette said.

"The chief investigator says they are knee-deep in it," Doucette said. "This is an important case."

He said investigators are interviewing witnesses and saying little about what they've found.

Although the fire scene was cleared of debris by UP the weekend after the fire, fire officials said they had inspected the scene and obtained the information they needed before rubble was cleared.

"UP wanted to get in there right away," Doucette said. "Our guys wouldn't let them in until they felt comfortable they had ... what they needed."

Local air pollution and health officials have yet to learn the type and amount of toxic air contaminants in the smoke from the fire, which spanned four days. Burning timbers contained creosote, a wood preservative that releases benzopyrene and other cancer-causing chemicals in a fire.

Government officials have not yet received full results from smoke samples collected and analyzed by a private testing firm on behalf of the railroad.

"They're still trickling in," said Larry Greene, executive officer of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

Greene said officials expect complete data from UP by Friday. State scientists will evaluate associated health risks and announce results next week, he said.

And there's the soil.

Results of initial sampling by the state -- from the river bank below the railroad bridge and from the blackened ground beneath the burned wooden approach -- show cancer-causing contaminants from burned creosote exceeding federal limits more than sevenfold in the case of benzopyrene and napthalene.

"There's a potential for groundwater contamination," said Duncan Austin, who collected samples the day after the start of the fire for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

By state law, UP must conduct a more thorough environmental investigation. It's clear from the water board's limited sampling, however, that the railroad will have to remove truckloads of toxic soil and revegetate the site, Austin said. That means the area, within the American River Parkway, will remain closed to bicyclists and others during the remediation, Austin said.