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Call Repeated To 'Stop The Oil Trains'


With another oil train crash making headlines, activists in Albany are heading over to city hall this evening to demand something be done about the tankers that pass through some of downtown Albany's most densely populated areas.

Activists, politicians and private citizens are reacting to the latest in a series of oil train mishaps: a firey derailment February 16th in West Virginia of a train hauling 3 million gallons of crude oil that destroyed a home, endangered a Kanawha River tributary, and affected two water treatment plants downstream.

Echoing the concerns of the county executive, Sandy Steubing with PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, worries Albany could be next.   "Tonight we're going to have a press conference, followed by a public comment speaking period in front of the Albany Common Council. The press conference is at 5:30, and the speaking in front of the common council starts at 6:30."

10 in her group have been cleared to speak before the legislators. Steubing tips her hat to County Executive Dan McCoy's relentless stance opposing trains moving through some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.   "Actually, it was the Albany County proclamation that started the ball rolling, because they passed a very strong proclamation asking Commissioner Martens to look at using some rebatement to totally stop the trains in New York State. So that happened last month, and then on top of it we've had two explosions this past week in which people's lives have been threatened and endangered once again, seven altogether in North America since July of ‘13, but it's getting to be so critical since we have so many trains coming into Albany."

The call to the federal Department of Transportation to immediately boost safety regulations for crude oil transportation has been repeated.  A joint statement issued by NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald and NYSDEC Commissioner Joe Martens says the West Virginia incident "is exactly the reason why the U.S. Transportation Department should not wait any longer to adopt tougher safety regulations for shipments of crude oil."

Former city councilman Dom Calsolaro lives within a half-mile from the railroad tracks. He wrote Commissioner Martens and Governor Andrew Cuomo, asking them to put an immediate halt to crude oil by rail in New York.    "And I think they could impose that. I'm sure what would happen if they did put a ban on there that the groups involved would take the state to court, a judge would probably stay the ban, but at least it would be out in the open, it would be up to the court to decide 'do states have the right to protect their citizens from a dangerous situation?'"

Calsolaro adds his area of Albany, the South End, could be destroyed by a similar event as has happened in West Virginia.  Congressman Paul Tonko concedes a lot of miles of rail run through the 20th district, oftentimes through some densely populated areas.  "I know that the department of transportation at the federal level, through Secretary Fox, is looking at promulgating the rules and regs that will make it more difficult and more stringent oversights as it relates to the shipment of Bakken crude. That's important. But I think it begs our reforms of energy policy, a bigger picture that speaks to this transportation issue along rail or pipeline, either, poses certain dangers."

Governor Cuomo has advocated for the federal government to expedite new regulations regarding crude oil by rail. Among them: a requirement that older tankers be retrofitted with reinforced steel plates and advanced braking systems. But critics quickly point out many of the tankers in the West Virginia mishap are of the "new" "better" "safer" design.

Another leading voice for rail safety is U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who says the new CPC-1232 cars involved in the West Virginia incident are only slightly stronger than the DOT-111's they're phasing out. He's calling for tougher cars and stricter DOT standards.  "What happened in West Virgina oughta be a shot across their bow that we need strong regs and safety must come first. If it costs them more, the oil companies are making a fortune, God bless 'em, on all this oil coming out of North Dakota. They can spend a little of it for safe cars, safer routes, slower trains and re-routing away from the most populated areas."

Among others joining the call to regulate oil trains: Riverkeeper, which wants railroads to immediately develop comprehensive spill response plans keyed geographically to each county where the trains travel, and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who has questioned executives on the key vulnerability of rail lines to terrorist threats. Activists argue time has run out: they say Washington cannot wait until the next derailment to act.

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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