County legislature makes second request for stricter rail safety standards

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – A spate of serious rail accidents in the recent past have cast a pall over Rockland, particularly towns that host the CSX rail line, with many residents well aware of the risks posed by their own local rails.

In response, the County Legislature has made its voice heard, coming out in favor of greater safeguards on cars known to be transporting volatile crude oils, tar sands and other hazardous substances.

The body voted on Monday to formally request the Department of Transportation’s action on the matter and outlined four different problem areas they would like to see addressed. A resolution in favor of similar regulations was approved by the body last year as well.

The resolution which passed this week calls for a four-pronged approach to rail safety reform. Included among the requested changes are speed limit reductions for densely-populated suburban areas as well as urban areas, safety retrofitting for DOT-111 model tanker cars, adherence to proper labeling on fuel cars and an increase in transparency and communication between rail line operators and first responders.

Concerns over rail transit of fuels, particularly crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota, has been a cause for anxiety for some time. Up to 30 oil trains pass through through the towns of Haverstraw, Stony Point, Orangetown and Clarkstown on the CSX line every week. The rail line passes close to population centers in all four towns and near sensitive sites such as the Lake DeForest Resevoir.

After the February derailment of a CSX train in Mount Carbon, West Virginia and a subsequent fire which destroyed several homes, the county invited Tim Pellerin of the Rangeley Fire and Rescue Department in Maine to host a seminar for the county’s first responders and political leadership, where prevention and disaster readiness were discussed.

Pellerin spoke on his experience with fuel train accidents, specifically his involvement in rescue and cleanup efforts in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a runaway train crashed and exploded in 2013, destroying 30 buildings and killing 43 people. According to Legislator Harriet Cornell, who sponsored the bill, the talk inspired a renewed, urgent push for revamped rail safety rules.

“In any event, the message that the fire chief gave to everyone…the message was prepare, prepare, prepare, because if something like this happens, you have to be ready,” Cornell said.

Accidents have occurred in Rockland as well. In October, a CSX train crashed into a car just north of Bear Mountain. Sixteen of the cars were carrying non-Bakken hazardous materials, though none derailed as a result of the crash.

The DOT did revamp rail safety in 2014 with an emergency order last year, requiring railroads to notify State Emergency Response Commissions when more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude is in transit. Additional safety regulations were strongly advised as well, but remain legally optional, a decision critics have argued provides little incentive for rail companies to make adjustments.