FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 4, 2007
In The Wake Of Gang Mills Chemical Train Derailment, Schumer Announces He Will Reintroduce Comprehensive Rail Safety Bill; Calls For Nationwide Overhaul Of Degrading Lines
With Norfolk Southern Increasing Train Speeds through Elmira, Schumer’s Legislation Would Aim to Shore Up Infrastructure to Prevent More Accidents
New York’s Freight Rail Infrastructure is Old and Deteriorating – Legislation Calls for Nationwide Structural Review and Creates New Line of Funding for Immediate Improvements
Gang Mills Accident Could Have Been Devastating Had Dan
On the heals of last month’s Norfolk Southern train derailment in Gang Mills, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today warned that this week that the potentially disastrous derailment could be just the tip of the iceberg if the federal government doesn’t move quickly to improve freight rail infrastructure in the Southern Tier and across the country. Norfolk Southern has already increased freight train speeds through Elmira and there are questions as to whether or not the older overpasses and rails can handle it. Today, Schumer announced he will reintroduce in the new congress his bi-partisan Rail Crossing and Hazardous Materials Transport Act, comprehensive rail safety and security legislation, which would direct millions of dollars in new funding to improve rail infrastructure.
“Increasing train speeds before we upgrade Elmira’s rail infrastructure is putting the cart before the horse,” Schumer said. “There are still serious doubts out whether or not Elmira’s rails, bridges and overpasses will be able handle the increased speeds and this accident shows we shouldn’t be taking any chances. We need a real plan to protect our communities and tougher penalties for railroad companies who disregard our safety.”
Two weeks ago, two tanker cars carrying butane derailed in Gang Mills. Though the tanker cars did not leak the hazardous chemicals, local first responders reported that the cars were highly unstable because the gravel that supports the track had been damaged. Several employees were evacuated from the scene. Had the chemicals leaked, the accident could have been very dangerous.
Schumer said that inadequate safety precautions put hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living near rail lines at risk. According to Federal Railroad Administration statistics, there have been 63 rail accidents, 30 derailments, 14 casualties and 383 total injuries last year nationwide.
In early December, a Canadian Pacific Railway freight train derailed near the Norfolk-Southern Yard outside Buffalo. Three of the 55 cars jumped the tracks and two flipped over. Though none of the cars contained hazardous materials, had there been dangerous chemicals on board, Schumer said the accident could have been a full blown disaster.
Schumer also said that current rail safety measures and the prevalence of manual switches along rail lines provide inadequate protection for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living near the state’s 3,695 miles of freight rail tracks. Manual switches were to blame for the deadly 2005 Graniteville, South Carolina derailment where chlorine leaked from the rail yard in to the neighboring community. The Gang Mills accident also occurred in the rail yard where the chemical tanker cars were being held.
From January to September of 2006, there were three more accidents in New York State caused by problems with the infrastructure than in the same period in 2005, an increase of 17.6%. According to the National Transportation Atlas Database, more than 2.02 million tons of chemicals are transported on New York’s rail networks every year.
To protect New Yorkers from a potential railroad disaster, Schumer today announced that he is going to reintroduce his bipartisan comprehensive railroad legislation that he wrote after the deadly Graniteville, South Carolina rail disaster in 2004. Schumer’s legislation, the Rail Crossing and Hazardous Materials Transport Act, co-sponsored by Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) sets tougher minimum and maximum fines for fatal accidents and establishes new requirements for investigations, inspections and the use of new safety technology. The legislation aims to crack down on negligent railroad companies and require the broader use of modern technology to protect the public from more fatal crossing and hazardous materials accidents.
Schumer’s legislation would also create a new infrastructure grant program that would authorize $50 million in federal funding for railroad and localities to complete vital infrastructure improvements.