Tag Archives: Scenic Hudson

The Bomb Train Next Door: Part II

Repost from Nyack News & Views
[Editor:  An excellent guide for those living in or near a bomb train blast zone.  See also The Bomb Train Next Door, Part I, with helpful bullet-points summarizing five primary crude-by-rail issues.  – RS]

The Bomb Train Next Door: Part II

By Susan Hellauer, July 6, 2015

Just before last week’s Independence Day holiday weekend, more than 5,000 residents living near Maryville, TN were evacuated after a CSX tanker car derailed and caught fire on July 2. The tanker car was carrying Acrylonitrile, a highly flammable and toxic gas which can cause membrane irritation, headaches, nausea and kidney irritation if inhaled in high concentrations. Ten officers and 30 first responders were hospitalized with inhalation injuries following the incident, where authorities established a two mile evacuation zone near the derailment site.

The July 2013 explosion of a Bakken crude train at Lac-Megantic, Quebec that resulted in 47 fatalities got the immediate attention of first responders, lawmakers and local officials wherever freight lines carry crude oil “bomb trains.” Environmental watchdog groups have publicized the danger of crude by rail and have also taken legal action in an attempt to halt or change practices they deem unsafe.

Want to make your own voice heard?

If you are concerned about the hazards of crude by rail in Rockland County, let your village, town and county officials know how you feel. Write or call your representatives in Albany and Washington. Write a letter to the editor.

You can also stay in touch with groups like the Sierra Club, Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and Forest Ethics. You can subscribe to the DOT-111 reader, a private website that tracks media reports about accidents and regulation changes involving rail tanker cars.

The people at the FRA, the NTSB and PHMSA are tasked with protecting us all from transport and materials hazards. Visit their websites, write or call them. They work for you.

Just say no?

Local officials are limited in what they can do to stop hazardous cargo like crude oil from being transported through their communities. There is a Common Carrier Obligation of railroads to transport hazardous materials. As long as those materials comply with government standards, railroads can’t pick and choose what to carry or where to carry it. Federal law stands between local governments and the rail operators in the interest of interstate commerce.

Federal agencies

In addition to issuing  and enforcing safety regulations, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) does research on behalf of the railroad industry. In May 2015 it issued new guidelines for the gradual replacement of the outdated DOT-111 tanker car and set mandatory speed limits for oil tanker trains. Oil companies are threatening legal action against these new rules.

Another USDOT agency, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), has an interest in freight train safety. The NTSB analyzes mishaps, finds transportation hazards and recommends solutions. Rail tanker safety is high on its list of “most wanted” improvements, and it’s pushing for more immediate remedies than the FRA has specified. The USDOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration(PHMSA) is also actively monitoring oil train safety, with a mission to “protect people and the environment from the risks of hazardous materials transportation.” It tracks HAZMAT accidents and recommends regulatory changes.

New York State

Oil train traffic in New York State has increased dramatically in the last three years, during which time oil and freight rail companies have spent almost $1 million lobbying in Albany. Meanwhile, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered and carried out several inspections of freight rail infrastructure throughout the state and has uncovered numerous hazards. CSX has responded to reports from these inspections with assurances that all will be addressed.

Protect yourself and your family

Know where you are in relation to hazardous freight trains. Study the CSX System Map to know where oil trains run, especially in relation to your home, your kids’ schools, where you work, shop and play. You can also use the Blast Zone Interactive Map from ForestEthics. Trains have derailed, exploded and burned at low speeds and high speeds, in remote areas, and in the middle of a town. There is no discernible pattern to these accidents, according to PHMSA, so don’t assume it won’t happen near you.


Sign up your landline or cellphone number for emergency notification through NY-Alert. If you are already signed up, check your information to make sure it is up to date.

In the event of a spill, explosion or fire, officials will use reverse 911 and NY Alerts to let you know whether to evacuate, how far to go, where to shelter, and when you can return. Disabled and senior citizens who might need help in an emergency should register with the Rockland County Access and Functional Needs Registry and with local police, so that first responders are aware.

Clarkstown residents can sign up for the town alert system, Ready Clarkstown, on the town of Clarkstown website.


Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded quickly to the USDOT’s May 2015 oil train safety plan. He proposed federal legislation to shorten the upgrade schedule and to impose even stricter speed limits on oil trains. In a May 4 press release, Schumer stated that “allowing these outdated oil cars to continue rolling through our communities for another eight years is a reckless gamble we can’t afford to make.”

At a May 6 press conference in West Nyack, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY representing Rockland County) proposed legislation that would ban interstate shipment of high-volatility crude oil via rail. Citing her many constituents who live near freight lines, she said that her “proposal would immediately ban interstate shipment of the most volatile forms of crude oil so that we can prevent the next tragic crude oil event.” Shipping of Bakken crude that has been processed to reduce its volatility before shipment would still be permitted.

In April, the Rockland County Legislature passed a resolution urging the USDOT to immediately enact rules to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil traveling by rail through Rockland County in support of the 2015 “Crude by Rail Safety Act” (H.R. 1804/S. 859).

First Responders

In December 2013, a car carrier and a 99-car oil tanker train collided at the Pineview crossing in West Nyack only 100 feet from the Lake DeForest water main that serves lower Rockland and Bergen County. The incident got the attention of Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco near whose home the accident occurred. Because the tankers were empty damage was limited, but it served as a wakeup call for the Sheriff’s Department and Rockland Fire and EMS to get real-time hazardous cargo information from CSX to Rockland’s first responders.

CSX and other freight haulers of hazardous materials cite commercial interests and terror concerns for their reluctance to disclose the exact location and contents of trains. Falco says CSX now has a phone app for first responders that provides near-real-time information in the event of disaster.  The issue of transparency and oil trains, however, is far from solved: rail freight companies in several states are being pressed to provide more real-time information, and they are fighting back with lawsuits.

The Rockland County Sheriff’s Department is now also monitoring oil train speed with radar guns. Falco says trains have been staying under the 50 mph limit, but immediate improvements to Rockland’s grade crossings are still needed.

Along with the Sheriff’s Department and the Town Police Departments on the River Line, evacuation and response plans are being developed by the Rockland County Department of Fire and Emergency Services. They run training sessions and drills to keep volunteer first responders prepared in the case of an incident, and also work with CSX on training, communication and response. CSX also positions supplies of fire-suppression foam along the River Line for use in a HAZMAT incident.

CSX will participate in a full scale derailment drill for Police, Fire and EMS in Orangetown that is planned for July 23.

If it happens…

If you are within a half mile of the incident, get yourself and your family away quickly. If in doubt, don’t wait for a call: just go.

The USDOT recommends one-half mile as a safe zone, but you may receive an alert advising otherwise.

Leaving the area quickly also allows emergency responders the time and space to stage and work.

“Time and distance are your friends,” says  Rockland Fire and Emergency Deputy Director Dan Greeley.

Environmental groups

The Hudson Valley Sierra Club, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson (among others) have been active and vocal in publicizing the oil train hazard in the Hudson Valley, as well as the dangers of light and heavy crude transport on the Hudson River. These groups are also monitoring a proposed crude oil pipeline (the Pilgrim Pipeline) along the New York State Thruway right of way.

A consortium of environmental groups is sponsoring a Stop Oil Trains Week of Action beginning July 6 (the anniversary of the Lac-Megantic disaster). Demonstrations and other events are planned in areas where oil is shipped by rail, to raise awareness and put pressure on government officials and agencies.

Susan Hellauer is a Bronx native and Nyack resident. She has been a volunteer with Nyack Community Ambulance Corps since 2001, and now serves as board member and Corps secretary. She teaches music and writing at Queens College and is a member of the vocal ensemble Anonymous 4.

See also:

Fed Measures on Crude Oil Fall Short, Put Protected Estuaries and Heritage Areas at Risk

Repost from HuffPost GREEN, The Blog
[Editor: Note reference near the end on federally designated National Heritage Areas and Estuaries of National Significance which “require special protection from potential explosions and spills. Rerouting bomb trains away from such specially designated regions would avert a disaster-waiting-to-happen to prime assets along their rail lines.”   The San Francisco Estuary Partnership is one of 28 Estuaries of National Significance.  (I am trying to confirm that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a National Heritage Area – their website is out of date.)  How might these agencies be brought into the discussion on Valero Crude By Rail?    – RS] 

Fed Measures on Crude Oil Fall Short, Put Hudson River at Risk

By Ned Sullivan, President, Scenic Hudson and Paul Gallay, President, Hudson Riverkeeper, 10/21/2014

Last May, we wrote about how the Hudson River Valley has become a virtual pipeline for the transport of highly flammable Bakken crude oil in unsafe DOT-111 railcars–the same tankers whose derailment has caused numerous explosions across the U.S. and the death of 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Canada.

Since then, very little has changed, which means the situation has just gotten worse.

Each day, more than 320 of these oil-laden cars continue to pass through our communities and along the shores of the Hudson River, one of the world’s most biologically diverse tidal estuaries. To date, we’ve escaped disaster, although three trains pulling empty DOT-111s have derailed in the Hudson Valley. Each time a rail accident occurs in the region, as it did just last week, the environmental community holds its breath, expecting the worst.

What will happen if cars full of Bakken crude do go off the tracks? The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), quoting the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), recently provided the answer: They “can almost always be expected to breach,” making them “vulnerable to fire.” The result would be catastrophic to the public health, vital natural and historic resources, and drinking water supplies of a region stretching from Albany to New York Harbor. It would cause long-lasting, if not permanent, damage to the estuary’s entire ecosystem and the foundation of a vibrant, $4.75-billion tourism economy.

Both Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper have been advocating vigorously for increased federal protections, including an immediate ban on the use of DOT-111s for transporting crude. Therefore, we were bitterly disappointed and frankly frustrated by new draft regulations proposed by the PHMSA regarding tanker redesign and other measures for reducing the risks of explosions and spills from these “bomb trains.” They just don’t go far enough fast enough, meaning our communities remain at grave risk. It also means the proposed rules don’t comply with federal law, which requires strict safety upgrades that will protect the public.

In formal comments on the regulations our organizations submitted jointly, we outline how the PHMSA’s rules are replete with loopholes and weak safety proposals.

  • Despite acknowledging the safety hazards of DOT-111s, the proposed regulations would very slowly phase out their use for transporting Bakken crude and allow 23,000 of these outdated, dangerous cars to remain on the rails for shipping heavy Canadian tar sands crude, which presents different but equally serious safety and environmental risks.
  • The regulations fail to require full disclosure of rail traffic information to first responders, and instead ask the industry if it would prefer to keep this information confidential.
  • The regulations fail to require the most protective braking improvements or speed restrictions, and fail to even consider limits on the length of trains that could reduce accident risks and impacts of a derailment.
  • The regulations would allow railroads to continue operating 120-car trains of Bakken crude oil without requiring any train-specific spill response plans–despite the fact that a 120-car train carries as much oil as an oil barge or tanker, both of which must have spill response plans approved by the Coast Guard.

Put simply, these rules defer to the rail and oil industries at every turn–and they won’t stop the next bomb train disaster. As the NTSB warned in its official comments on these proposed rules, “Each delay in implementing a new design requirement allows the construction of more insufficiently protected tank cars that will both increase the immediate risks to communities and require costly modification later.” Further, the NTSB concludes that the government’s proposed standards for new and existing tank cars offer options that “do not achieve an acceptable level of safety and protection.”

We deserve real protection for our communities and the environment. And we deserve it now.

For these reasons, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson have called on the PHMSA to issue an emergency order requiring immediate adoption of the most stringent tank car standards, speed restrictions and use of electronic controlled pneumatic braking in all trains carrying crude, as well as closing loopholes in the rule that leave heavy tar sands crude and trains carrying fewer than 20 cars of Bakken crude completely unaddressed. (Scenic Hudson also has called for rules requiring Bakken crude to be processed at its source in North Dakota, making it much less volatile for shipment. This is done at many Texas oil fields.)

In addition, we are calling on federal rail regulators to designate the Hudson River Valley, as well as other similarly situated regions, highly important natural and cultural resources under PHMSA routing regulations. This means that the natural and cultural resources within this federally designated National Heritage Area (one of only 49) and Estuary of National Significance (one of 28) require special protection from potential explosions and spills. Rerouting bomb trains away from such specially designated regions would avert a disaster-waiting-to-happen to prime assets along their rail lines. In the Hudson Valley, those assets include six drinking water intakes; 91 state, county and municipal parks; 40 Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Areas; nine colleges; 69 public schools and 80 medical facilities.

The federal government has the responsibility to ensure the public’s safety. Until Washington steps up and fulfills this obligation, we’ll have to keep on holding our breath.