NY locals, state and feds join together to demand rail reform

Repost from lohud.com The Journal News

Fast-track oil train standards, Rockland officials say

Khurram Saeed, The Journal News    11:20 p.m. EDT March 17, 2014

Officials want tighter regulations and safer tank cars in place for freight trains transporting crude oil through Rockland County.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey and local elected officials and community leaders at a press conference in West Nyack March 17, 2014 demanded new rules to ensure the safe transport of crude oil through the region.(Photo: Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

WEST NYACK –  A small cadre of federal, state and Rockland officials on Monday demanded that the U.S. transportation department boost safety standards for trains that carry crude oil through local communities and environmentally-sensitive areas.

At one point during the press conference held at the rail crossing on Pineview Road, a southbound oil train slowly rolled past. It was hauling dozens of the tank cars, known as DOT-111s, that are prone to rupturing following derailments or collisions.

In December, a train moving 99 empty oil tank cars — each large enough to carry about 30,000 gallons — hit a car carrier at the site but did not derail.

About 14 oil trains move through Rockland each week on CSX tracks, shuttling between Chicago and refineries along the East Coast, a recent Sunday story in The Journal News detailed.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently working on stricter standards for transporting crude oil by rail and the tank cars that carry them.

Safe transport of the more volatile crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota must be “fully tackled” by the DOT, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey said. She said voluntary initiatives by the oil and rail industries were a good start but called for better planned routes, more transparency and improved tank cars.

“The promises of industry just aren’t enough to safeguard the public,” said Lowey, D-Harrison.

Rockland Legislators Alden Wolfe, D-Montebello, and Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack, on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asking his office to “fast-track rule changes” endorsed by Lowey and New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Several speakers noted CSX’s River Line passes near Lake DeForest and the Hackensack River, which supply hundreds of thousands of residents in Rockland and Bergen County, N.J., with drinking water. An oil spill in the reservoir would be devastating, they said.

“Guess who pays for the catastrophes and clean-ups?” asked Cornell — before explaining it would primarily fall to taxpayers.

Rockland Sheriff Louis Falco said he planned to meet with CSX in the coming weeks. His officers have been checking speeds of trains during the day — they have largely been in compliance, he said — and would soon begin observing them at night.

He also wants CSX to provide a daily list of what is aboard the trains so he can notify local police and fire departments.

“It takes a lot of people working together to make it clear that this is unacceptable,” Lowey said.