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Last Month, A CSX Cargo Train – One Car Was Carrying Gunpowder –Traveling Through Batavia & Rochester, On a Track That Is No Stranger To Trains Carrying Flammable Crude, Derailed After Powerful 78 MPH Wind Storm

Many Lives Could Have Been Put At Risk If Train Carried Crude; Schumer Urges Feds To Prioritize Effort To Stabilize Highly Volatile Crude, Making Oil-By-Rail Safer

Schumer: Batavia Dodged a Bullet So Feds Need To Fix Shipping Standards Before It’s Too Late

In the wake of the CSX train derailment in Batavia last month, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called on the new Administration, specifically the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE) to finalize review of carrying highly flammable crude oil shipments and issue new regulations to address procedures on how to stabilize crude before shipping it through Batavia and across the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. While the specific CSX train involved in the accident last month was not carrying crude oil, Schumer said the tracks are no stranger to trains that do carry crude. In addition, Schumer said Batavia and similar towns along the tracks across Genesee County like Bergen dodged a bullet and the federal government should consider this accident a sobering reminder that current regulations are out of whack.  Present-day DOT and DOE regulations, allows dangerous crude oil to be shipped without being stabilized, making violent explosions far more likely.

“The derailment that occurred in Batavia last month, and not to mention the numerous other recent accidents across the state have alarm bells ringing in this region. While this train fortunately was not carrying crude oil, these incidents serve as a warning of the dangers that face the Rochester-Finger Lakes region every day. We dodged a bullet last month, but one day our luck is going to run out,” said Senator Schumer. “We know that many trains rumble through the Rochester Finger Lakes Region carrying oil that is highly volatile. We must take steps now to make that oil less explosive so that we can guard ourselves from disasters like the one that happed at Lac Magentic. Federal officials need to complete their review and fix these outdated regulations before anything bad happens. The alternative could be devastating.”

Last month, a CSX freight train derailed at the railroad crossing at Donahue Road in the town of Batavia. A 12 car train derailed in Batavia due to strong winds, one of the overturned cars carried flammable gunpowder. Fortunately, no one was injured during the incident and there were no leaks of hazardous materials. However, Schumer warned that this set of track is frequently used by freight trains carrying highly flammable crude oil from across the state. In fact, CSX reported that 20 to 35 of its oil trains move Bakken crude oil each week across upstate New York through the Rochester area. Between 1999 when CSX first moved to Upstate New York and 2014 there were 6 derailments in Monroe County alone and in 2007 one such derailment caused more than $1 million dollars worth of damage when it derailed into residential front yards and onto a road.

Schumer explained that these freight trains are used to transport highly volatile crude oil across New York State even though they are putting local communities in danger given they are prone to rupture and explode during derailments and said that though some efforts to regulate these shipments have been enacted not every tool is being used to protect communities like Bergen and Batavia in Genesee County from the risk of these shipments. Moreover, CSX trains carry Bakken crude oil, which contains more combustible gasses than other oil produced or refined in the U.S., increasing the danger to communities.

At Schumer's urging, requirements have been enacted that make significant improvements to tank car design standards and enhanced communication with local first responders but there is still work to be done in order to mitigate the risk of these highly flammable and dangerous materials. Schumer said it is the duty of the federal government to enact new rules and regulations to ensure that crude oil is stabilized before it ships and that every possible measure is in place to ensure the safety of residents in Genesee County and beyond. 

Schumer has fought for years to secure safer oil shipments in New York. This past December, Schumer announced that, following his push, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) took its first major step toward requiring oil companies to stabilize their highly flammable crude oil before shipping it by rail.  Today, Schumer highlighted that while that first step is important, USDOT and USDOE should not take their feet off the gas and should continue to advance the stabilization rule all the way through the regulatory process. Schumer has long argued that current laws allow for dangerous crude oil to be shipped through the backyards of Upstate NY – like communities without being stabilized, making violent explosions far more likely.

  • Since August 2013 Schumer has pushed for the phasing out or retrofitting of DOT-111 train cars that are prone to explosion during derailments. Following previous crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a series of recommendations, including to the Pipeline and Hazmat Safety Administration to require all service tank cars carrying fuel ethanol and crude oil to have protections and features that far exceed the DOT-111 design requirements. DOT-111 cars are not pressurized, unlike pressurized DOT-105 or DOT-112, which have thicker shells and heads and are much less prone to breaching during a derailment. The NTSB found that the heads and shells of older DOT-111 cars can almost always be expected to breach in derailments that involve pileups or multiple car-to-cart accidents. These cars, prone to failure in the event of a derailment, were involved in several high-profile spills, including the tragic explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec.
  • In April 2014, Schumer pushed for better information-sharing among railroad companies and local first responders, who are often the first on the scene of a derailment. Prior to Schumer’s push, railroad companies carrying hazardous materials through New York communities were not required to notify local first responders when trains were coming and the type of hazardous material they were carrying, but a recent emergency order by the DOT now requires this information to be shared with essential local emergency personnel.
  • In July 2014, following over a year of advocacy by Schumer, the DOT proposed a rule that would require railroad companies to phase out these crude-oil-carrying cars within two years or retrofit the cars with thicker shells because the cars have proven to be prone to rupturing and exploding during derailments.
  • In October 2015, in light of efforts by industry groups to extend the timeline for phasing-out dangerous DOT-111 tank cars, Schumer called on the federal DOT to stay the course and stick to the two-year phase-out it had already proposed. Schumer explained, leading industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and Association of American Railroads (AAR) proposed extending the phase-out timeline to up to ten years, despite the dangerous and unsafe nature of these tank cars. Schumer, therefore, urged the DOT to keep the two-year phase-out intact as it finalizes the rule. Schumer said a phase-out that could last ten years would be disastrous for Upstate New York and Hudson Valley communities where these trains travel each day.

Schumer was joined by local First Responders, Fire Department officials, and local elected officials.

 Cortney Gale, Bergen Village Administrator said, “The main railroad tracks are in the heart of our Village, a stone’s throw from business, homes, and residents, and so railroad safety is a long-standing concern for us and our first responders.  We appreciate Senator Schumer’s support for these concerns and his push to improve the safety of fuel oil trains.  The recent train derailment in Batavia last month underscores we need all levels of government to help ensure safety measures are in place.”

Schumer is also a staunch advocate for rail safety. He pushed the FRA to investigate train derailments all over the state including the 2007 train derailment in East Rochester. He has also routinely fought for swifter implementation of the lifesaving Positive Train Control technology. Schumer has also been outspoken on the need for railroads to conduct comprehensive sleep apnea screening for their engineers, a frequent cause of derailments, and he's successfully pushed for the installation of inward facing cameras on a number of rail systems.