After another derailment of tankers carrying crude oil, this time in the Capital Region, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand renewed her call for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to urgently update and implement guidelines for safer transport of hazardous liquids. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 carloads in 2013 nationally. Terminals at the Port of Albany have the capacity to handle 2.8 billion gallons of oil per year. Since December 2013, there have been at least 4 derailments in New York State, including West Nyack, Cheektowaga, Ulster, and Selkirk. Millions of New Yorkers live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of the train tracks, which can be travelled twice a day by trains over 100 cars long, and carrying 85,000 barrels of oil.
“These freight trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous liquids are going through communities near homes, schools and hospitals,” said Senator Gillibrand. “A derailment or explosion in New York could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our waterways. We need new guidelines to improve oil tanker safety, and far more accountability and transparency to protect public health, safety and the environment.”
CSX lines carrying crude oil run through neighborhoods in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City, as well as other cities, towns and villages around the state. An accident or explosion in any of these communities would have catastrophic consequences. Additionally, freight rail lines run along some of New York’s environmentally sensitive areas, including the banks of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and along the edge of the Adirondack Park in the North Country. A spill affecting any of New York’s water bodies, public lands or other protected ecosystems would pose a serious risk to these natural resources.
While the recent agreement between DOT and the rail industry to reduce the speed of trains carrying crude oil was a positive first step, Senator Gillibrand is pushing for more to be done to immediately address the safety of – and ultimately phase-out DOT-111 tankers – and implement new guidelines for the safer transport of crude oil and other hazardous liquids. Two decades ago, the DOT-111 tankers were deemed “inadequate,” however, they have continued to operate on rail lines, including through communities in New York. As recently as 2012, the NTSB reported that DOT-111 tankers have a “high incidence of tank failure.”
In her letter to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “I remain concerned about the timeline for finalizing a rule. It is my hope that you will move as quickly as possible to issue a draft rule and move to a final rulemaking to improve the safety of the DOT-111 tanker cars. This is critical to the safety of millions of New Yorkers who live or work near rail lines.”
DOT Commissioner Fines CSX
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald announced today that the Department has fined CSX Railroad a total of $10,000 for failing to report as required two derailments last week that involved tank cars transporting crude oil. Under New YorkState law, rail accidents involving freight trains carrying hazardous materials must be reported to NYSDOT within one hour of the accident. Commissioner McDonald says “These regulations are in place to ensure a proper response in order to protect public safety and the environment, and any failure to comply will not be tolerated.”
On February 25, CSX failed to report to NYSDOT the derailment of a train in Kingston involving empty rail cars that had recently off-loaded crude oil. On February 28, nearly two hours after the fact, CSX notified NYSDOT of a derailment at the Selkirk Yard involving a train fully loaded with crude oil from North Dakota. No oil was spilled in either incident. The causes remain under investigation.
Under State law, Commissioner McDonald has the authority to fine CSX up to a maximum of $5,000 for each incident.