OIL TRAINS: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

OP-ED BY ASSEMBLY CANDIDATE RICH COCCHIARA

manRailroad workers call them “bomb trains” and they pass through our towns and villages every day. Trains carry Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and other hazardous chemicals over the rail lines located along the Hudson River using DOT-111 tanker cars notably passing through New Windsor, Cornwall, Highlands, and Stony Point. Compared to several other leading types of crude oil, Bakken crude oil is volatile, highly flammable, toxic and corrosive. As someone who spent his career helping to mitigate the impact of disasters, I’m concerned with the danger of this crude oil leaking or igniting and causing destruction in the event of a train derailment. It is a reality that can’t be ignored, especially when there is evidence of such instances occurring. Over this past year alone there were four derailments in the US and Canada resulting in loss of life, explosion or oil spills.

What can be done to make sure such a disaster never occurs in our community? The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has pressed the owners of DOT-111 cars, including oil companies, to retrofit existing cars with additional safety features. But this may not be enough because even with improvements to these train cars, the chance of a spill and explosion during a derailment is still very high. If elected to the NY State Assembly, I will push for the following solutions:

1. Sponsor legislation banning all non-retrofitted DOT-111 tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil from New York railroads traveling through heavy residential areas.

2. Advocate for a new train tanker car that is designed from the ground up to avoid exploding or rupturing during a derailment. Oil companies who profit from shipping their product through this region should share in the cost of a new tanker car design that will address the underlying safety issues.

3. Utilize existing technology that can provide information on the contents of each rail car as it enters a town and make that information available to local fire departments immediately when responding to a train derailment.

4. Provide state funding for creating town/village disaster mitigation plans and enhanced training of fire departments on train derailment response.

Taken together, these modest proposals would safeguard our community against an unfortunate event. Unlike career politicians who simply complain about a problem, I believe in understanding the issues and creating common sense solutions.

Rich Cocchiara is a four-term Hamptonburgh Town councilman and the GOP, Conservative and Independence candidate for the 99th Assembly district. His opponent is incumbent freshman Democrat James Skoufis