Tag Archives: New York Senator Charles Schumer

Sen. Schumer: Urgent need for more railroad bridge inspectors

Repost from The Daily Freeman, Kingston NY

Sen. Schumer: Urgent need for more railroad bridge inspectors

By Kyle Hughes, NYSNYS News, 04/09/15, 9:26 PM EDT

ALBANY >> Senator Charles Schumer said Thursday there’s an urgent need for more federal railroad bridge inspectors, saying the combination of old infrastructure and oil trains is an accident waiting to happen.

Schumer said there are 3,000 rail bridges in New York, most of them privately owned, and only one federal inspector assigned to monitor them for safety purposes. The inspector is also responsible for overseeing rail bridges in 13 other states.

“New York as you know has some of the oldest and most frequently used infrastructure in the nation hands down and that is particularly true when it comes to rail,” he told reporters in a conference call. “Part of the reason is we are an older state. Another reason is New York has always been a vital geographic link between the Midwest and the East Coast.”

Schumer said that adding $1 million to the Federal Railroad Administration budget would double the number of available inspectors. He said public roadway bridges in New York must be inspected every other year, and private rail bridges must be inspected by their owners annually, subject to federal oversight.

But he said the FRA doesn’t have the resources to properly oversee the rail system.

“It’s not that expensive a price for safety,” Schumer said. “The bottom line we all know is simple: We should not be waiting for a derailment or a horrific collapse to do something to make sure our train bridges are safe, privately owned or otherwise.”

He said 2,158 of the 3,000 rail bridges are in upstate New York, including 281 in the Capital Region, 261 in Central New York and 307 in the Hudson Valley. Even in the sparsely populated northern region of the state, there are 144 privately owned rail bridges.

“For years agriculture states in the Midwest have been transporting their products on New York rail lines, but recently, of course, oil producing states like North Dakota have been shipping millions of gallons of crude oil across New York to the east Coast and Canadian refineries as extraction has surged from the Bakken formation,” Schumer said.

He said the shipments and the wear and tear on New York rail infrastructure “should caution us to make rail infrastructure safety a priority. Especially our rail bridges which are the most vulnerable to deterioration and present the greatest risk.”

“So far we’ve been lucky … [but] it’s very likely many of the bridges are deteriorating and some of them may be deteriorating fast.”

He said bridge failures and derailments could occur, and cited the accidents in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013 that killed 47 people and a more recent explosive oil train disaster in Lynchburg, VA.

Schumer also released a letter Thursday to the FRA pledging support for increasing funding for rail safety. The letter said there are an estimated 70,000-100,000 privately owned rail bridges in the U.S.

Oil train traffic has increased annually in New York each year as production in the western U.S. and Canada has boomed. Experts say the U.S. in on track to replace Saudia Arabia and Russia as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2017.

Besides oil, other dangerous substances are shipped by rail, including liquefied natural gas and ethanol. A 2009 derailment of 13 ethanol cars in Illinois killed one person and caused 600 homes to be evacuated and $8 million in damage.

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    Former Albany Council Member: State has power to halt oil trains

    Repost from The Albany Times Union

    State has power to halt oil trains

    By Dominick Calsolaro, Letters, March 18, 2015

    A recent article (“More oil train crashes predicted,” Feb. 23) by The Associated Press says it all: “The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.”

    Crude oil transport by rail must be stopped in New York state, immediately. In light of the report by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the recent crude oil train derailments and explosions in Illinois and West Virginia, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and Gov. Andrew Cuomo can no longer hide behind the mantra that crude oil transport by rail is the federal government’s problem and the state has no authority in the matter.

    The governor and commissioner are legally required to protect the health, safety, welfare and property of citizens. U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., as well as Larry Mann, principal author of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, have publicly stated crude oil by rail is dangerous and potentially deadly. A summary abatement order by Martens to ban all rail transport of crude oil until it is proven that such transport is safe is well within Martens’ power.

    The people cannot wait for another catastrophe before our leaders take action.

    Dominick Calsolaro
    Albany
    Former Albany Common Council member
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      Albany NY Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer

      Repost from The Press Republican, Plattsburgh, NY
      [Editor: the safety improvements showcased here are far from adequate, nevertheless, it’s a good update on conditions in New York.  Sen. Schumer is absolutely right – the DOT-111 tank cars should be taken out of service immediately… and not just in New York.  And Bakken crude should be stabilized before it is transported (not just conditioned) … just as it is in Texas.  – RS]

      Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer

      Lohr McKinstry, December 6, 2014

      LEWIS — New state regulations on crude-oil trains should help make them safer, Emergency Services officials from Essex and Clinton counties said recently.

      State agencies have implemented 66 actions designed to strengthen standards, regulations and procedures to make the transport of crude oil by rail and water in New York safer and to improve spill preparedness and response.

      Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a status report outlining the progress made by multiple state agencies after they were directed to evaluate the state’s capacity to prevent and address crude-oil accidents.

      Local leaders have been concerned about the 100-car-plus oil trains moving through Clinton and Essex counties as the crude oil extracted in North Dakota arrives via Canadian Pacific Railway trains.

      The oil is on its way to the Port of Albany, where it is stored for transport to various refineries.

      IMPROVEMENTS

      Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said he sees the new procedures as a safety benefit to the North Country.

      “It’s a step in the right direction,” he told the Press-Republican. “We’re in a better position than we were a year ago.”

      There’s been concern the trains could derail, and the oil burn or explode, as it has in other regions, and Jaquish praised Canadian Pacific for trying to make the tracks and tank cars safer.

      “Upgrading the DOT-111 tank cars, rail replacement and maintenance, and specialized training are all beneficial to safety.

      “Canadian Pacific has been helping us with training, hands-on-experience, that first responders need for these situations.”

      EVACUATION PRACTICE

      The tank cars are not owned by Canadian Pacific but by oil companies and vendors, and as a federal common carrier, the railroad is required to transport them.

      Both the railroad and federal regulators have pushed for upgrades to the DOT-111 single-shell cars or a switch to the stronger DOT-109 or 112 cars.

      “In almost any situation we get, we will be doing evacuations,” Jaquish said. “We’ve been working with Clinton County on planning and implementation.”

      Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said any improvements to the transport of oil cars are welcome.

      “At the end of the day, what they’ve done is good, no question,” Day told the Press-Republican. “Any regulatory move to make the DOT-111 cars safer is a plus. It’s a long time coming.”

      One problem is that there are thousands of DOT-111 tank cars still in service, he said.

      “There are so many of them (DOT-111 cars) out there on the tracks. They’re not going to stop moving the oil before they fix the cars. The oil is not going to stop coming any time soon.”

      STATE GUIDANCE

      Day said enhanced state regulations on oil shipments will be helpful.

      “If there are changes that are pushed upon them (shippers), it can only make it safer. We’ve seen some of the benefits of the state’s work with regard to planning,” he said.

      “We have guidance now on firefighting potential on dealing with these things. There are so many variables. Multiple cars of this crude oil on fire are a different animal.”

      He said that, thanks to a donation, they now have the foam needed for such fires. The expensive product costs $30,000 for 1,000 gallons of foam but puts out crude-oil-based fires.

      VOLATILE GAS

      The North Dakota Industrial Commission has proposed draft regulations to remove the volatile gases from the oil before it is shipped, and Day said that provision is a good one.

      “One of the things that makes the Bakken crude so volatile are the gases in the oil. The gas works its way out and is stuck in the head space of the car. If they breech, there’s flammable gas; cars that aren’t breeched and heat up, the gas could expand and be a problem.

      “Removing that gas is a possibility before they put in the cars and ship it. If they could do that, it’s a big win.”

      FEDERAL ROLE

      Cuomo called for the federal government to mandate tank-car upgrades or replacement.

      “The federal government plays a vital role in regulating this industry, and Washington must step up in order to expedite the implementation of safer policies and rules for crude-oil transport,” he said in the release.

      The governor said the oil-production industry has resisted stronger tank-car standards and regulations requiring companies to reduce the volatility of crude before shipment.

      A new report from the Brattle Group for the Railroad Supply Institute, a trade group, showed that a proposed federal rule to upgrade rail-tank cars could cost $60 billion.

      According to the report, the high price tag is largely due to the costs associated with potential modifications to tank cars, early retirement of existing tank cars, temporarily using trucks instead of rails for transport and lost service time for tank cars under modification or awaiting modification.

      ‘TIME BOMBS’

      U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has also come out against use of DOT-111 cars.

      “These outmoded DOT-111 tank cars … are ticking time bombs that need to be upgraded ASAP,” the senator said in a news release.

      “That is why for two years, since the tragedy at Lac-Megantic, I have pushed federal regulators to phase out and retrofit these cars.

      “As a result of our efforts, the federal Department of Transportation has put a proposal on the table that could start taking these cars off the tracks within two years, as well as restrict the speeds at which these trains operate.”

      On July 6, 2013, a 74-tank-car train carrying Bakken light crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and the tank cars exploded, killing 47 people, destroying 30 buildings and spilling 1.5 million gallons of heavy crude oil.

      That disaster was followed by oil-train-explosion derailments in Alabama, North Dakota, Illinois and New Brunswick, Canada.

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        NY Gov. Cuomo accuses federal officials of moving “unacceptably slow” on proposed rules

        Repost from RecordOnline, Middletown, NY

        Cuomo: Feds need to address crude-oil shipments by rail

        By Leonard Sparks, Dec. 1, 2014

        ALBANY – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government to tighten rules governing crude-oil shipments by rail as the state released a report Monday documenting actions to protect Hudson River communities from derailment-related spills and explosions.

        State rail inspectors uncovered more than 700 track and equipment defects and 12 hazardous material violations during seven inspection “blitzes” this year, according to the report, which documents New York’s progress in implementing 12 recommendations to improve safety.

        Cuomo’s administration accuses federal officials of moving “unacceptably slow” on proposed rules to make crude shipments safer, including a proposal to phase-out the DOT-111 rail cars that many consider unfit for shipping oil.

        “Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”

        Hydraulic fracturing has fueled a surge in U.S. oil production and the use of trains to carry highly flammable crude from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota to Albany’s port. From there it is shipped by rail and water down the Hudson River valley.

        On July 6, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Megantic, a town in Quebec, Canada. Oil leaked from the train’s DOT-111 cars and ignited, causing explosions and the deaths of 47 people.

        In February, a freight train pulling empty oil cars derailed in the Town of Ulster. Supervisor Jim Quigley said he has been vocal about upgrading the tank cars.

        New York added five safety inspectors, began training local emergency responders and started the process of updating spill-response plans as part of a multipronged strategy to protect communities along shipment routes.

        Last month, the state urged the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to “expeditiously” remove DOT-111 cars from service or require they be retrofitted to carry oil.

        Sen. Charles Schumer described the cars as “ticking time bombs.”

        “I am pushing DOT to commit to the strongest of these regulations as soon as possible,” he said. “We can’t afford any delay.”

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