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New York: Action needed to prevent rail disasters

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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— Several New York agencies are recommending action at the state and federal levels to help prevent rail disasters during shipments of crude oil like the accidents that have occurred in other states and Canada.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent the agencies' report Wednesday to the White House, along with a letter urging swift action on four measures, including the removal of outdated rupture-prone tanker cars from service.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer also called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a rule that rail companies must share information with local first responders about the types of hazardous materials being shipped.

The calls for action coincidentally came on the same day a CSX Railroad train carrying crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va., causing a spill and fire.

"This is the latest in a series of accidents involving trains transporting crude oil, a startling pattern that underscores the need for action," Cuomo said.

New York has become a central route for rail transport of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale region to coastal refineries, with tens of millions of gallons passing through the state daily. In January, Cuomo directed five state agencies to evaluate New York's ability to prevent and respond to crude oil accidents. Their report identifies several measures they say the federal government should take. These include:

—Finalize new tank car regulations to remove from service older puncture-prone tank cars;

—Codify into federal regulation the voluntary safety measures adopted by railroad companies;

—Develop site-specific response plans to protect the environment in a derailment;

—Require testing of Bakken and similar crude to provide critical information to state and local emergency responders.

The report also recommends action the state should take, including more inspections, training and response drills; passing legislation to ensure timely rail incident reporting; and pre-positioning spill and fire response equipment.

New York's rail lines handle about 16 percent of the total annual output of the Bakken oil fields, one of the world's largest formations. The Port of Albany has emerged as a major hub for crude oil shipments, with rail lines converging there from the north and west to continue on to coastal refineries or transfer crude to ships for transport down the Hudson River.

 
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