Schumer and Falco to CSX and DOT: Don’t keep our first responders in the dark

BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

20140422_113143_resized_1U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Rockland and Orange County this week to push for a new Department of Transportation rule requiring rail companies to share information about the content of their rail cares with local first responders.

Senator Schumer was joined by Rockland Sheriff Louis Falco outside Sheriff’s Headquarters on Tuesday, as Falco has been the local official most involved in pushing CSX railways to provide information about cabs passing through Rockland. Thus far he has been rebuffed.

In recent years CSX has increased its transport of crude oil and chemicals through the county. Schumer noted that several accidents in recent times in locations such as Quebec, where 47 were killed, and Alabama and North Dakota, should serve as a warning not to wait until it’s too late.

Currently first responders need to get close to cabs and read codes on them to find out what is in the cabs. First responders like Falco say this is dangerous and time consuming. It’s also easy to make a mistake in the dark, especially if the train is on fire.

Currently railways share information with the State Police, but State Police are not first responder on most scenes. State police are bound by a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) preventing them from disclosing any information about the contents of the rail cars.

When asked why the current regulations require rail companies to inform the State Police of the contents of their rail cars, even though State Police are not generally first responders, the senator responded, “That’s a good question. You asked the right question,” and left it at that.

Under Schumer and Falco’s desired system, the rail companies would tell each county authority they are passing through what is in the cars, making sheriffs sign a similar MOU as the state police currently does, ensuring confidentiality.

The idea of allowing State Police to release the information upon request in emergency situations was not mentioned at the press conference, but may be another alternative.

Schumer’s requested rule has been encouraged by the National Transportation Safety Board for at least the past five years.