08 Oct Recent Occurrences of Railroad Fire Remind Why Cadiz Fire Suppression Solution Is Important
Since our founding, Cadiz has focused on sustainable, innovative solutions to California’s challenges. The Cadiz Water Project seeks to provide a new, sustainable source of water to more than 400,000 Southern California residents every year by conserving groundwater lost to evaporation in the Mojave Desert. Our agricultural operations seek to sustainably farm natural crops in demand around the world, including our recent focus on hemp – a crop that can help address climate change.
Cadiz Inc. has worked with many local organizations in the development of our projects, including the Arizona & California Railroad (ARZC), a Parker, Arizona-based business that is a key part of that small Colorado River community.
On September 14, 2019, a fire on an historic Arizona & California Railroad (ARZC) trestle near Parker, Arizona, burned for more than a day and spread to areas firefighters couldn’t reach. Rail traffic was rerouted for a week while repairs were made. Addressing fire risk is a key focus of the improvements including in the Cadiz Water Project for the ARZC railroad. This article describes the danger of trestle fires and the program developed by Cadiz and ARZC to address them.
Fires like the one in Parker are not uncommon:
- In 2007, a creosote-soaked trestle fire on a major railway in Sacramento, California, halted freight and passenger rail traffic throughout the northern half of the state. Union Pacific replaced the trestle at a cost of $25 to $30 million. According to local media coverage at the time: “The relatively remote location of the fire was making it difficult for firefighters. There were no water hydrants nearby. Firefighters, however, were using what water they could get to the site to make a defensive stand near a levee on the American River.”
- In 2013, a 900-foot trestle over the Colorado River in Texas caught fire and collapsed. According to local observers, the trestle was about 9 miles from main highway and, “the fire was considered too dangerous to fight by the volunteer firemen that responded. They did not have enough water to put out all of flaming trestles.” The bridge was replaced in 2014 at a cost of $4 million.
- In 2015, an historic, creosote-soaked trestle near Sherwood, Oregon caught fire, and put at risk “more than 7,000 residents living in a 2.5-mile radius of the fire … asked to keep their windows and doors closed as the area filled with heavy smoke.” Fighting the fire was reported to cost the local fire department over $80,000.
- In 2018, a rail trestle in Fremont, California alongside the Dumbarton bridge caught fire due to a suspected nearby brush fire. The location was hard to reach and required 30 minutes for fire crews to get there. The trestle was lost.
- In 2018, a creosote-soaked rail trestle caught fire in Georgia. Nine spans of the trestle, known as “the lifeline to Colonel’s Island” and totaling about 100 feet of track, were destroyed. Local fire fighters said: “It’s so far out there, we can only supply them with water by bringing in those tanker trucks.”
- Last week in Hagerstown, MD, over 1,000 used railroad ties caused a massive blaze that required 27 firefighting units. Crews said – “We were pouring 30,000 gallons of water an hour on it through an elevated stream with a ladder truck…all that water formed a pond on the site that saturated some of the ties. That helped.”
Cadiz pipeline can address risk of railroad fires
In 2008, Cadiz entered a lease with the ARZC to build the Cadiz Water Project’s conveyance pipeline within a 43 mile portion of its right-of-way, which starts in Cadiz and crosses the Colorado River Aqueduct – the main facility to bring water into Southern California – on its way into Arizona. The water pipeline will be buried alongside ARZC’s tracks and Cadiz will provide the railroad with water, hydropower and other benefits to assist with railroad operations, including fire suppression.
As longtime operators in the desert, particularly for agriculture, we have worked closely with our neighbors at the ARZC. Early on we identified synergies between ARZC operations and the water project, and as part of our lease agreement, Cadiz agreed to provide the ARZC a number of features derived from the pipeline that could improve its operations. Under the agreement, Cadiz will primarily provide:
- construction of a new access road along the entire pipeline, which the railroad can use for emergency access, track maintenance and crew changes,
- access to power via meters placed along the pipeline; power to be generated by in-line hydropower turbines inside the pipeline,
- a steam-powered sightseeing train operated by the railroad,
- a telecommunication line,
- reserved water for right-of-way maintenance and railroad operations,
- reserved water and infrastructure for fire suppression,
Cadiz delivers new fire suppression technology
A key component of the Cadiz Water Project is the installation of an automated fire sprinkler system and fire hydrants along the ARZC railway, primarily at wooden trestles. The ARZC has approximately 31 wooden trestle bridges that cross dry washes along a down gradient for 43 miles. The line carries agricultural products, construction products, lumber and petroleum products, and provides critical functions for transcontinental freight. A fire on the isolated, hard-to-access route could halt deliveries and would be difficult to fight.
After understanding the unique risk presented by fire on this line, Cadiz was able to innovate and offer an unmanned suppression solution that could potentially douse a fire early on and prevent loss. A key feature of the solution is a heat sensor at each bridge connected to a telecommunications system that can be monitored by rail personnel and potentially fight the fire before it even starts.
Cadiz works to protect rail-dependent communities
The idea to work with the railroad came from 150 years of historical precedent encouraging infrastructure to co-locate in existing corridors, starting with telegraph lines buried alongside the transcontinental railroads in the 1800s. Today, fiber-optic cable, broadband internet, electric powerlines, oil, gas and water conveyance pipelines are examples of longitudinal infrastructure within existing railroad rights-of-way. Such utility-railroad partnerships offer benefits, innovation and improvements to the railroad and infrastructure partners, and also protect the local environment by concentrating infrastructure together rather than scattered across untouched lands.
It is a core mission of Cadiz to offer innovative, sustainable solutions to surrounding neighbors and communities and we are proud of the fire suppression solution borne of our utility-railroad partnership that can minimize fire risk for the railroad. Working with ARZC to innovate and protect the local environment as well as rail dependent communities is a win-win for all.