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February 20, 2014

Rail exec takes issue with cargo disclosure calls

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The head of the Canadian company that owns the Delaware and Hudson rail line through Otsego County has come out against proposals requiring the disclosure of the hazardous materials that freight trains carry on both sides of the US-Canadian border.

Hunter Harrison, the chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., made his comments this week in Calgary as both the U.S. and Canadian regulators scrutinize the increased shipment of crude oil and other hazardous cargo on on freight cars. A derailment in Quebec last year led to 47 deaths.

“There’s stuff we’re hauling, it’s coming right through your community and right by your door, and it’s a whole lot more dangerous than crude,” Harrison was quoted as saying in Canadian press accounts. 

He cited safety concerns as the reason for why the public should not be made aware of the specific hazardous materials being transported.

Freight rail companies are “common carriers” that are legally required to carry all types of cargo brought to the rail network by its shipper clients, Harrison said in contending tighter regulations are not needed.

He said the Quebec derailment was caused by a “human behavior issue” and asked: “What kind of regulations are you going to put in to stop that?”

Ed Greenberg, a Canadian spokesman, told The Daily Star that the freight tracks running through Oneonta and nearby communities, as well as all Canadian Pacific lines, are inspected both visually and by computerized devices programmed to detect any irregularities.

“First and foremost, at Canadian Pacific, we have a rigorous safety inspection system in place to ensure that safety is embedded in everything we do,” Greenberg said. 

The company has been installing track-side warning devices as an additional step to enhance safety, he said.

Ellen Pope, director of Otsego 2000, said she was advised by another Canadian Pacific official that no crude oil is being carried by rail through Otsego County communities, and that the crude oil being transported into New York goes from Quebec to the Port of Albany. Pope said she is advocating for greater disclosure of the materials being hauled by trains so first responders can be prepared and to contain spills that could contaminate water supplies and the Susquehanna River.

Greenberg said he could not confirm the report that local trains haul no crude. Asked if the company shares information with local fire departments and other first responders about hazardous cargo, Greenberg said it does in order to help them train and prepare for potential mishaps.

Kevin Ritton, the director of the Otsego County Office of Emergency Services, said the contents of what individual freight trains are carrying - known as manifests - are not shared in advance by the railroad with his agency. But he noted such documents would amount to “a very extensive list almost daily.”

Oneonta Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon said his department has developed protocols for responding to incidents involving trains, including examining placards on the cars that indicate what a particular container is carrying and asking for manifests from the train crew.

Firefighters are also trained in digesting information provided by Material Safety Data Sheets so that they an evaluate hazardous materials and determine what types of specific protective measures they will need to take when encountering such hazards.

“We have continuing education all the time and refresher courses,” Pidgeon said. The railroad personnel, he said, “have always been very responsive” in addressing any questions from the department.

One issue getting attention from railroad regulators in both the U.S. and Canada are older tanker cars seen as a weak link in the freight system. Harrison said in Calgary that these DOT-111 tanker cars should be phased out as they are “not equipped to haul these commodities.”

He attributed the slowness in replacing them with sturdier new cars to high costs, saying, “You know what it comes down to–and I hate to tell you this–(it’s) the almighty dollar: Who’s going to pay for this?”

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, is scheduled to appear in Cooperstown this afternoon with village Mayor Jeff Katz and Nathan Fenno, president of the New York Susquehanna and Western Railway (NYSW) for a press conference on rail safety.

Schumer, according to the senator’s office, will call for an extension of a tax credit to short line railroads, such as the NYSW, so they can complete necessary track maintenance and upgrades.

The NYSW is an arterial route on which 85 businesses ship products, many of them agricultural, to the Port of New York for export.

The NYSW would be able to complete up to $3 million in infrastructure improvements if Schumer’s proposal wins support, according to the senator’s office.