U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand praised U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx’s announcement of a new safety alert that energy companies and oil shippers should no longer use DOT-111 rail cars, and that those companies will be required to make public the routes that Bakken crude is being shipped on, and alert first responders along those routes. While this is a welcome and important first step, Senator Gillibrand also cautioned that we cannot stop there, and the Administration must work expeditiously to finalize a rule to permanently ban the use of these dangerous rail cars for crude oil shipments.
New York has seen a dramatic rise in the transport of crude oil across rail lines, including a series of derailments and spills, which could put communities at risk. Early in March, Senator Gillibrand called for the DOT to urgently update and implement guidelines for safer transport of hazardous liquids, especially with regard to the DOT-111 rail cars. She continued her effort by pressing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard to quickly update contingency plans for oil spills in the New York and New Jersey region, and to include local first responders in the planning process. Then in April, Senator Gillibrand joined with 15 of her Senate Colleagues requesting funding in the fiscal year 2015 budget for increased inspections of rail cars that handle toxic and hazardous materials.
“I applaud Secretary Foxx for taking action to protect our communities from dangerous rail cars that have proven time and time again to pose a serious safety risk,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I strongly urge industry to follow this new safety alert and immediately being phasing out the use of DOT-111 rail cars for shipping crude oil. But we cannot rely on voluntary industry action alone to protect the safety of New Yorkers, and the Administration must finish its work to implement a final rule to permanently ban the shipment of crude oil on DOT-111 cars.”
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 plans to increase their capacity to handle 2.8 billion gallons of oil per year. An additional transfer station is planned in New Windsor. Since December 2013, there have been at least 4 rail car incidents 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 are often used multiple times a day by trains over 100 cars long, and carrying 85,000 barrels of oil.
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.