Friday, February 27, 2015

Metrolink, the Temecula Parkway Interchange, and California Gas Prices

Safety: Did these new Metrolink cars prevent worse injuries in Tuesday's Oxnard crash?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


There was quite a bit of hard news on transportation-related matters this week: A Metrolink train crash in Oxnard, another injury-traffic collision along the I-15 freeway near Temecula Parkway, and soaring gas prices.

So let's take a look at each.

Metrolink Oxnard Crash and Metrolink's Safer Passenger Cars

Very early in the morning on Tuesday along the Metrolink Ventura County Line, Train 102 had departed Oxnard at about 5:40 AM and was headed to Los Angeles Union Station. Just past the Oxnard station, a Ford F-450 pick up truck was stuck on the tracks. At about 5:45 AM, the train collided with the truck and derailed, sending three of the four passenger cars toppling to their sides.

According to news reports there were 48 passengers and 3 train crew members aboard. 30 of those were admitted to hospitals.

Metrolink believes the injuries could have been a lot worse and there is solid evidence to back that up. That's because two of the cars that tipped over which included the cab car were the newer Guardian Fleet Hyundai Rotem Bi-level cars. The third car that fell over was the older Sentinel Fleet Bombardier car.

The last passenger car that was left standing upright was at the rear of the train which was also a Hyundai Rotem model. Behind it was the locomotive that was pushing the train.

The Hyundai Rotem passenger cars were designed to absorb crashes and their improved emergency exits streamlined the evacuation process. The deadly 2008 Chatsworth wreck clearly demonstrated Metrolink's need to use the safer rail cars.

Investigators are confirming whether the new cars made a difference in terms of safety regarding this collision specifically. All three cars that were tipped over including the older Bombardier model appeared to be intact with no major interior collapses. The published photos show that was the case.

Regarding the truck stuck on the tracks, no charges have yet been filed against the driver, but that case is still being investigated. I've been seeing reader comments posted on various online news articles condemning Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez. We should refrain from passing judgement on him simply because he has not been tried in court. The truck driver should be entitled to his innocence unless a jury convicts him or a guilty plea is submitted.

Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange Project: Another Collision...

I have to put this question out yet again:

How many more collisions must the I-15/Temecula Parkway interchange see before its safety hazards are finally fixed with the Ultimate Interchange Project?

Just a little bit more than 36 hours after the Oxnard Metrolink crash, yet another injury-accident occurred on the I-15 south just north of Temecula Parkway, where the interchange has chronic issues of a long single-file line of stopped cars getting off of the freeway that  blocks a 70 MPH freeway lane.

This area has a long history of injury accidents and fender benders simply because of the lack of infrastructure to handle the current traffic demands. Because of the congestion, the queue line at the end of the ramp spills over onto the far-right general purpose lane marked at 70 MPH. Add to that a blind curve about 1/2 mile north of the junction.

How many more collisions does this interchange need before regulators clear the way to have the Ultimate Interchange project funded and built? How many?

Gas Prices Nationwide are going up but State Prices are up rapidly. Why? 

While we're on the topic of cars, you may have noticed that Inland Empire gas prices as well as pump prices throughout the state have risen sharply.

Gas prices have gone up over $1 per gallon within the past 90 days. You read that right...an extra buck per gallon between mid-January and now. Based on my personal observations and data from GasBuddy.com, local pump prices were around $2.10-$2.35 per gallon in the region back then. Today, they have spiked to around $3.20-$3.40 with some gas stations selling regular unleaded as high as $3.65-$3.75 per gallon in Corona, Banning and west Temecula. We are headed back towards the days of $4.00-per-gallon pain-prices at the pump. But there's a catch this time around.

What is odd about this statewide spike is that crude oil has remained relatively steady at about $50/barrel despite the continued instability and conflicts in the Middle East. It was around $42 through January. That's mainly because of the all the recent domestic oil supply production taking place in the Dakotas and other Midwestern areas.

To be fair, prices have been rising nationwide, but not at the rate of California's. Even with the nationwide hikes, some gas stations in the western United States are still selling regular unleaded below $2.00 per gallon which includes the Salt Lake City region according to GasBuddy.com. Idaho Falls had prices as low as $1.64 per gallon. Next door to us, Las Vegas gas prices for regular unleaded clocked in at $2.42-$2.97 per gallon. Between the expensive gas stations here at home and the median price rate around Salt Lake City, there is a whopping 188% price difference between the two regions; some people filling their cars up here at home are paying nearly twice as much.

Don't even get me started with gas stations in areas lacking local competition. Several gas stations in Los Angeles County lacking nearby competitors have already broken the $4.00 mark with a Torrance Arco station selling regular unleaded at a whopping $4.89 per gallon. That's almost a 300% mark-up than the gas stations in Idaho Falls.

CA Gas Price Hike: What's going on?

According to reports, there's a multitude of issues contributing to the California chaos. The Torrance refinery explosion that occurred last week, annual seasonal refinery maintenance, United Steel Workers union-related labor disputes and worker slowdowns at other refineries, and California's switch from winter to summer fuel blends have combined to shorten fuel supplies statewide. Those are the factors that have been driving up prices rapidly even though the country as a whole is flush with crude oil.

Regarding the worker slowdowns and strikes at the refineries, it's very easy to lay the blame once again on the labor unions. Present-day groups have a recent history of obstructing the economy over trivial wage matters, especially those in the public sector.

But the refinery labor dispute this time around is a bit different. Just like worker problems that occurred during the Industrial Revolution and Great Depression, there are legitimate safety issues being reported at the oil refineries nationwide which included the Torrance explosion. Plus, the median market wage for a refinery operator is $26.79 per hour according PayScale.Com which looks excessively high at first, but is very fair. That's because working at an oil refinery is dangerous work as its crew members must acquire many skills to keep the plants both safe and productive. Oil, oxygen, and heat are all elements necessary for a refinery to function. Add the three together and you have fire. That means if the three elements are combined in the wrong place, the results could be fiery deaths and explosions.

Wages need to be fair for a high-responsibility job like operating dangerous refinery machinery, even for starting employees. The labor unions are not wrong this time around in demanding better safety conditions, fair pay and benefits for their workers. That is their job and what they are supposed to do.

However, like the port dispute, this disagreement has been going on far too long. Add to that the need for the state to streamline any trivial regulatory rules on California's unique summer blend. There needs to be a more streamlined approach in state law to keep the air clean, summer blend production costs down, and refineries safe. Those factors have contributed to the soaring gas prices in the state which negates our economy and weakens the spending power of the dollar.

Both the state and federal government need to get involved and act quickly before California's rapidly rising gas prices crash the state's economy and the jobs that go with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join the Debate!