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Local News

April 26, 2014

Local officials: Rail safety plans ready

Local officials interviewed Thursday were split on a proposal by Sen. Charles Schmer, D-N.Y., that would require rail companies to notify first responders when they plan to transport potentially hazardous material through their communities. 

Sen. Schumer is proposing regulations that would require railways to contact local first responders when such a situation arises.This follows a request from officials in Rockland and Orange counties who have unsuccessfully asked to be notified.

Canadian Pacific Railway operates through this area, having purchased the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in 1991. Spokesman Ed Greenberg said while he couldn’t comment on Schumer’s proposal, his firm provides such information now if requested by local agencies. For security reasons he cannot provide such information on such specifics to the public, he said. However, safety is part of an ongoing collaboration with first responders that includes regular updates and emergency preparedness sessions, including exercises on equipment and training. 

“We take it seriously,” he said. “One incident is one too many.” 

The rail industry is extensively regulated, but the company has its own set of operating protocols in place. This includes regular inspection of track and equipment. “We have a good safety record but we are continually working to be safer by investing billions in state of the art equipment.” He did not have information available on when the last accident was. But local agencies agreed the company has a good safety record.

Otsego County Emergency Services Coordinator Kevin Ritton said while propane, gasoline and different chemicals regularly move through the rails, regular notification is not needed. Information on what is being carried should take about 15-20 minutes to learn, either through the train manifest that it carries on board, or by hotline with the railway. He is not aware of any localities that receive regular notifications. If that was required, his concern is that it could overwhelm local resources. The last major incident in this area was a D&H derailment near Emmons that caused a propane explosion in February 1974 that injured 56. Since then, fire departments approach a scene with greater caution, Ritton said. With the addition of cell phones and computers, there are many ways to gather the necessary information and respond appropriately.

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