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Oil Train Protests Recall Quebec Disaster

Public outcry against the so-called "Bomb trains" reached a fever pitch over the holiday weekend - as communities across North America marked the one-year anniversary of the crude oil train disaster in Quebec.  In the heart of a Canadian town, 47 people were killed, thousands had to be evacuated and dozens of buildings were destroyed.  

Names of the victims were read during several of the memorial gatherings in communities bordering rail lines where residents fear the next derailment, explosion or fire could affect in their neighborhood.

Members of Frack Free Catskills braved a rainstorm to march and protest in the Saugerties July 4th Parade, carrying banners that read NO CRUDE OIL TRANSPORT! along with “replicas” of the dangerous cars which carry the Crude Oil through the Hudson Valley.

Up north,  Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist from the Center for Biological Diversity, organized a march across the pedestrian bridge over the Saranac River in Plattsburgh.   "The oil trains, with their unsafe, underregulated and operated under a shroud of secrecy, pose unacceptable risks to our communities, water, wildlife and climate. Today's demonstration is a call to our political leaders at every level of government to take action. To keep the people and our environment safe from these bomb trains."

Councilor Mike Kelly of Plattsburgh’s Ward 2:  "The city has no control, nor does the state have any control over the railroads. That is, interstate commerce, that is controlled by the federal government, we can't tell them how fast to travel through our town, we can't tell them what times to come through our town..."

But it's not for lack of trying:  local, state and federal officials led by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, have been calling for stricter standards for crude oil shipments.

Sunday night a group of activists collectively known as People of Albany United for Safe Energy (PAUSE) gathered in New York's capital city on a basketball court at the Ezra Prentice Homes, renewing their call to stop the trains. Shipments of crude oil by train to the Port of Albany began in late 2011, and the trains lumber along in close proximity to the buildings. A week ago, about a hundred gallons of oil leaked from a tanker at the nearby Kenwood Rail Yard. One activist worries about a lightning strike hitting a parked tanker that may have its venting open.

St. Johns Church of God in Christ Pastor Reverend McKinley Johnson says the oil car issue is "a matter of life and death" for the south end community.   "And if we don't get some facts out there, they gonna roll right over us, all for a few million dollars."

Late last week the state Office of Emergency Management responded to FOIL requests from Associated Press and eight environmental groups that asked for public disclosure of details about shipments carried across New York by oil trains. The agency said it will respond to the information requests within 20 days.

CSX officials issued a statement to the media explaining the railroad "understands that there are concerns" in communities oil is shipped through.

The railroad has beefed up track inspections, lowered speed limits in federally designated, high-threat urban areas, and has been meeting with first-responders who serve major rail hubs, including the Port of Albany.

Congressman Paul Tonko addressed the Albany crowd, making a case for alternative energy.   "There needs to be a universal response to our comprehensive energy policy as a nation. We need to wean ourselves from the gluttonous dependency and thirst for oil."

Saratoga Springs was also the scene of an oil train vigil. Here is raw video footage of that event.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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