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CSX's upgraded and faster rail crossing passes right by dozens of houses in Canton. Photo: David Sommerstein.
CSX's upgraded and faster rail crossing passes right by dozens of houses in Canton. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Ritchie: CSX "less than responsive" on rail safety in Canton

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State Senator Patty Ritchie says she's still waiting for freight rail company CSX to provide more information about the hazardous materials being transported through villages like Canton and Potsdam. And she's calling for Governor Cuomo to expand his investigation into rail safety to include the North Country.

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Last September, Canton village and CSX officials met in state Senator Patty Ritchie’s office. They discussed concerns that CSX was increasing train speeds from 25 to 40 miles per hour. Ritchie says one request that came out of that meeting was that CSX divulge more details about the hazardous materials on those trains.

"God forbid that there’s any kind of any issue, that local first responders and fire departments have that information, and that’s what we pressed for at the meeting."

Ritchie says CSX agreed to provide those details on a confidential basis. She says the company also offered to train local emergency responders.

But four months later, Ritchie says none of that has happened yet.

"CSX had, I would say, been less than responsive to some of the requests that were made, and I’m going to make sure that they follow through on the promises that were made right here in my office."

CSX declined to make someone available for an interview. But in an e-mailed statement, spokesman Robert Sullivan said a secure, online tracking system allows officials to track trains and their contents in real time. But it's not clear if that system is available to local and state officials. Potsdam mayor Steve Yugartis says he has never heard of such a system, and its usage was not offered to the village.

CSX also said a January 30th training for first responders in Canton has been rescheduled.

Railroad towns around the country have woken up – almost overnight – to the potential dangers of freight trains carrying crude oil, ethanol, or chemicals through residential neighborhoods.

Last month, the Transportation Safety Boards of the U.S. and Canada issued an unprecented joint call for tougher rail safety. It was largely aimed at the skyrocketing number of tankers full of volatile crude oil coming from Alberta and North Dakota.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo followed suit a week later with an executive order along the same lines. He made specific mention of crude oil shipments along Lake Champlain and at the port of Albany.

But Senator Ritchie says that doesn’t go far enough. She’s calling on Cuomo to broaden that order to include the CSX rail line through St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Oswego counties, and to include other cargoes, like hazardous chemicals.

"If we’re gonna take the time to actually look at this, and it is an issue that is important and should be looked at – make sure that we don’t limit it to certain areas when it really is a concern across the entire state."

There have been three accidents on CSX’s North Country line just since last September’s meeting. One person was killed and another injured. None was of the magnitude of the massive explosions that hit Lac Megantic, Quebec or more recently, rural North Dakota. Ritchie says she hopes better cooperation between CSX and the towns its rails run through will prevent that.

CSX says it is engaged with the nationwide efforts to review rail safety and routing guidelines and wants to “restore the public’s confidence” in safe rail shipping.

This story was updated to include information from Potsdam village mayor Steve Yugartis.

Here's is all of CSX's e-mailed statement:

CSX Statement:

CSX puts the highest priority on the safety of the communities in which we operate, our employees, customers and their products.  The US Department of Transportation is examining the safety of moving oil by rail, including rail safety, tank car standards and crude oil assessments, and we are engaged in that effort.  As we analyze rail safety in moving oil, we understand the public concern and our efforts are focused intently on enhancing the safety of oil transportation and restoring the public’s confidence in our ability to do so. We already comply with federal routing guidelines for the transportation of the most hazardous materials, and we will evaluate whether those protocols could be applied to oil shipments. However, re-routing requires careful thought and analysis to make sure that hazardous materials operate over tracks that incorporate the most safety features, and that additional miles that may involve other risks are not added to shipments.

At an industry meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, we made some important progress toward identifying what the railroads and energy producers together can do to enhance safety.  Our discussions were focused on what else can be done in areas such as processes and technology to assure public confidence and make the supply chain ever safer in order to fully realize the potential for U.S. jobs, manufacturing and energy.

For our part, the railroads intend to look again at operating procedures and the deployment of additional safety technology.  We will report back to Secretary Foxx in mid-February.  The oil producers agreed to ensure that the Bakken oil is properly labeled and to coordinate with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to conduct a full analysis of oil characteristics.  All of us are focused on ways to strengthen tank cars that haul flammable products.

CSX follows strict USDOT guidelines for transporting hazardous materials.  CSX practices meet or exceed federal regulations, including those contained in the Federal Railroad Administration’s Emergency Order and Safety Advisory of August 2.

The DOT-111 tank cars that are handled by CSX are owned or leased by the customers and subject to inspection before and during transit.  The DOT-111 tank cars operating today are designed to meet current federal and regulatory requirements as well as industry standards.  The federal government establishes the minimum construction standards for the type of tank cars in which hazardous materials can be transported.  The AAR recommended that these minimum construction standards be improved (cars held to improved standards).  CSX supports this position, as well as the AAR’s support of the DOT’s heightened vigilance and attention to the proper labeling of oil moving in tank cars.

In addition, CSX also conducts specialized training for its customers and for fire, police and other first responders. CSX has trained thousands of first responders over the past six years. The company also maintains a nationally accredited police force and emergency communications center, and regularly conducts emergency preparedness planning with first responders and other public safety agencies.

CSX and the State of New York participate in a partnership called SecureNow, which provides security officials with access to CSX’s Network Operations Workstation (NOW) system. This secure online system, developed and used by CSX, allows officials to independently track the location of CSX trains and the contents of rail cars in a nearly real-time environment.

In late September, CSX met with local officials in St. Lawrence County and with Senator Ritchie.

The emergency responder training was scheduled for January 30, but is going to be rescheduled by mutual agreement.

 

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