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.