New Jersey town council presses for moratorium on use of older tank cars

[Editor: Significant quote by Teaneck Town Councilman Mark Schwarz: “‘If we’re all going to sit here and wait for our [Legislative] District 37 leadership and Congress’ to act, ‘then we’re going to die of old age.'”  – RS]

Teaneck Council presses for moratorium on use of older tank cars on oil trains through town


TEANECK — Local officials are pushing for a moratorium on the use of old tankers to carry millions of gallons of highly explosive materials on rail tracks through town.

Tank cars lining the CSX tracks near Cedar Lane in Teaneck in May. Fifteen to 30 oil trains pass each week through 11 Bergen County towns.
Tank cars lining the CSX tracks near Cedar Lane in Teaneck in May. Fifteen to 30 oil trains pass each week through 11 Bergen County towns. | CHRIS PEDOTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Residents and members of the Township Council have expressed concern about the safety risks posed by crude oil traveling in substandard railcars that federal regulators have cautioned against.

The Record has reported that at least 7 million gallons per day of highly combustible Bakken crude oil comes through 11 Bergen County towns — Northvale, Norwood, Harrington Park, Closter, Haworth, Dumont, Bergenfield, Teaneck, Bogota, Ridgefield Park and Ridgefield – on the CSX River Line.

Concerns over the crude on the railways have mounted in recent months after a series of fiery accidents and derailments in North Dakota, Alabama and Virginia. Last summer, 47 people were killed when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in a small Quebec town.

The Teaneck Council passed a resolution Tuesday night calling for the temporary ban until federal regulators have deemed the tankers adequate. Though ceremonial, the council hopes neighboring North Jersey communities will join in amplifying the message.

“The transportation of this material in such close proximity to homes, businesses and our water supply, raises serious public safety concerns and requires that we take immediate action to eliminate this hazard,” the resolution states.

Mayor Lizette Parker on Tuesday night said the township should hold federal lawmakers accountable, while other members of the council asked for development of a township emergency response plan, in the event of a derailment.

“This is a safety issue that needs to be important to them,” Parker said. “We do have the power of influence. And I don’t mean the seven of us” on the council. “I mean the 39,000 of us.”

Councilman Jason Castle urged his colleagues to consider an emergency management plan he said he circulated “two sessions ago.”

“My daughter just started school at the Rodda Center — she’s at the preschool there and the tracks run right by the Rodda Center,” he said.

Councilmen Henry Pruitt and Mark Schwartz said the township should find other strategies that don’t rely on action from officials in Trenton and Washington.

“If we’re all going to sit here and wait for our [Legislative] District 37 leadership and Congress” to act, “then we’re going to die of old age,” Schwartz said.

Enlisting other towns

While New Jersey officials declined to reveal the number of trains that travel on the rail line, citing security risks, documents provided by New York State officials showed between 15 and 30 oil trains are entering Bergen County from Rockland County each week. The trains also travel through Hudson, Essex, Union, Middlesex, Somerset and Mercer counties, according to a map on CSX’s website.

Rail executives this year agreed to more track inspections and a reduction in train speeds in highly populated areas, but they haven’t been swapping out their fleet of old tanker cars. Even though the National Transportation Safety Board has called the tankers inadequate for transporting such flammable materials, federal officials are only recommending that railway companies stop shipping crude in the old cars.

Two weeks ago, the Teaneck Council asked Township Manager William Broughton to send letters to the other Bergen County municipalities along the CSX line. Broughton told the council he had not received any responses as of Tuesday.

The manager also said the township is already working with CSX “on this issue of preparedness and response.” This week, CSX paid for one of the township’s deputy fire chiefs to attend safety training in Pueblo, Colo. The course deals specifically with fires from crude oil, Broughton said.

Residents at Tuesday’s meeting praised the council’s attention to the issue. Some even vowed to take drastic measures to stop the trains from coming past their homes and businesses and force federal reforms.

“I will personally sit on those tracks, and anyone else who wants to can join me,” said Paula Rogovin, who organized a protest at one of the railway bridges in town.