In The Wake Of New Upstate NY Freight Rail Accidents, Schumer Announces He Will Reintroduce Comprehensive Rail Safety Bill; Calls For Nationwide Overhaul Of Degrading Infrastructure
With Four Rail Accidents in Upstate NY in Less than a Month, Senator Finds Federal Government Still Asleep at the Switch When It Comes to Freight Train Safety Will Renew His Push in the 110th Congress
New Yorks Freight Rail Infrastructure is Old and Deteriorating Legislation Calls for Nationwide Structural Review and Creates Strict Age Limits for HAZMAT Rail Cars
On the heels of Tuesday nights freight train derailment in East Rochester and a recent rash of accidents across upstate New York, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today warned that the potentially disastrous accident could be just the tip of the iceberg if the federal government doesnt move quickly to improve freight rail infrastructure in the Rochester area and across the country. Today, Schumer announced he will reintroduce in the new congress his bipartisan 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.
The federal government is quite literally asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting our communities from deadly train derailments, Schumer said. This incident reminds us that there are thousands of gallons of extremely dangerous chemicals rumbling through Rochester area communities. What we need is a real plan to protect our communities and tougher penalties for railroad companies who disregard our safety.
Thirteen cars on a CSX train left the tracks last night in the village of East Rochester. No one was injured, but at least two motorists were nearly hit by falling trailers that were dislodged from their train cars. After another freight train derailed on Tuesday in Kentucky, hazardous chemicals aboard caught fire, sending 11 people to the hospital.
Earlier this month, a CSX tanker car carrying more than 20,000 gallons of methanol caught fire in the CSX rail yard in Selkirk. The tanker car was being held adjacent to more than two dozen other cars carrying the dangerous and highly flammable chemical, but thankfully the fire did not spread. More than 50 homes within a mile radius of the accident were evacuated.
This is one of three major accidents on upstate New Yorks freight lines in less than a month. Two weeks ago, two tanker cars carrying butane derailed in Gang Mills in the Southern Tier. 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.
In early December, a Canadian Pacific Railway freight train derailed near the NorfolkSouthern 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, the accident could have been a full blown disaster.
The Rochester area has a long history of freight rail accidents. In 2001 a CSX train crashed in Rochester, derailing 23 cars, three of which spilled thousands of toxic chemicals into the Genesee River. Sixteen months after the accident, Schumer made a direct appeal to CSX President and CEO Michael Ward, asking him to stop delaying and pay to cleanup the spilled chemicals and remove all the toxic sediment from the river. Currently, the cleanup is in its final phase as CSX contractors have removed more than 2,000 tons of contaminated sediment from the river. However, this accident could have been far more tragic had the chemicals spilled in to a neighborhood or a crowded community area.
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.
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 states 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 Yorks 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. Schumers legislation, the Rail Crossing and Hazardous Materials Transport Act, cosponsored by Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RSC), 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.
The bill sets strict age restrictions for cars carrying hazardous materials by requiring every car be inspected and upgraded every fifteen years. In addition, all rail cars fifteen years or older currently in use must be inspected and brought up to federal code within one year. Schumers legislation would also create a new infrastructure grant program that would authorize $50 million in federal funding to complete vital infrastructure improvements.