By John Ramos

SCHELLEVILLE (KPIX 5) — In Sonoma County, a train, filled with hazardous materials is sitting abandoned on the tracks as a fight over who is responsible for moving it drags on.

Federal and state regulators spent Tuesday afternoon doing safety inspections on this row of about 80 rail tankers sitting on a rural branch line near the Sonoma County town of Schellville.  But the fact the cars are there at all has locals pretty fired up.

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“The federal government and the railroad ought to be ashamed of themselves for their putting this in jeopardy,” Sonoma resident Jim Braun said.

The tankers contain liquefied petroleum gas, an additive used to create California’s winter blend of gasoline, and they were put there by a local freight hauler called Northwestern Pacific.  The operators of the smart commuter line actually own the rails and they say they were not notified when the cars began being stored here about 3 weeks ago.

“Until we know exactly how they plan to transport this…they are not permitted to use our track,” Jeanne Mariani-Belding, Spokesperson for Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) said.

But hold on, says Mitch Stogner.  He’s the executive director of another agency, the North Coast Railroad Authority, which oversees the movement of freight on rail lines.  He says SMART may own the rails, but they have no authority over the tankers.

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“The freight operator has an exclusive freight easement, which is a legal right to move freight trains that cannot be interfered with by anyone,” Stogner said.

But, haulers of petroleum have come under attack everywhere after the horrific derailment and fire that took nearly 3 dozen lives in Canada three years ago.  That may have people spooked, but the freight haulers say storing petroleum on rails is actually a common practice throughout the Bay Area.

“You can see them everywhere, going to the Oakland Coliseum, just look around there’s hundreds of them,” Stogner said.

He’s right.  We found similar-looking tankers just off I-880 in Oakland, and others in Richmond, although there is no indication what, or how much, they may contain.  SMART says the Schellville tankers are a threat to the public, and says a proper safety plan was never submitted. But, the freight authority thinks SMART is using the issue to try to eliminate freight from its tracks entirely.

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It’s all part of the crazy patch-work of railroad regulations that will likely send this turf war off the rails, and into a courtroom.