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Capital Region News

Activists, Elected Officials Warn About Dangers Of Oil Trains

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WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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As politicians scramble to expedite laws addressing crude oil transport by rail, citizens gathered in Albany today to demand the trains be banned from rolling on New York tracks.

On May 1st,, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued long-awaited rules on oil train cars, which critics say are dangerous — prone to accidents and explosions near population centers. New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Menands Monday morning to unveil legislation that would tighten aspects of the DOT’s rules. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says stabilizing the crude would raise the bar of safety.  "They have the technology. It's stabilized when it's put through a pipeline. That same stabilization should be added before the materials are put into a tanker car."

Critics have long argued that Albany and cities like it are potential danger zones, with tracks right nearby dense neighborhoods. A small North Dakota town was evacuated Wednesday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, setting several cars ablaze. No injuries were reported. The AP says the shipment of oil involved in that derailment had been treated to reduce its volatility.

Meantime, Albany County officials have been working on an evacuation and emergency notification plan. County Executive Dan McCoy would like to see safety regulations fast-tracked.  "Because this is the fifth train incident in the last couple of weeks that has happened around this great nation of ours. And God forbid, it takes a life. Is that what needs to happen? We need to stop this now and take a common sense approach. Let's implement these safety rules today, not for just big cities like Yonkers, New York and Buffalo, but for everyone across this great nation."

Albany-area activists gathered outside the Governor's Mansion on Eagle Street Thursday in desperation to stop what they call "bomb trains." One after another touched on individual and neighborhood concerns.

Willie White heads a South End community organization called "A Village Inc."  "Are we gonna continue to let these trains explode and run through our community and kill our people? There's been studies done in our communities whereas asthma and emphysema and everything else is up. We have to stop this. I'm lookin' at systemic racism and it's been goin' on from the White House to the present community and we have to stop this today. We have to stop it."

Former Albany Common Council member Dom Calsolaro believes a little push from the top is all that's needed.   "I guarantee you if the State of New York and the governor works with other governors where these trains have to go through so you're not coming through this state, you're not coming through our state, within six months these regulations would be in effect, the volatility would be down, the train cars would be retrofitted and we would be safe again."

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WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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The activists signed a petition they had hoped to hand-deliver to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was in New York City.  Jennifer Post is a spokeswoman at the New York State Department of Transportation. "While CSX and CP RAIL have told us their trains transporting crude oil do not exceed 30 miles an hour in the city fo Albany, we certainly support requiring reduced speeds in federal regulation."

Here is a copy of a letter County Executive McCoy sent Thursday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx:

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