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Renewed Push For Oil Train Regulations As Communities Prepare For Disaster

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WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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Once again, New York's U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on federal regulators to pass tighter safety restrictions for crude oil transported by rail.

The newest cry came Thursday: The Senators submitted a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan calling on him to pass legislation requiring new standards as soon as possible.

The hazards posed by “oil trains” haven't gone unnoticed by elected officials.  Last spring, the Cuomo administration invited reporters to an emergency services drill in downtown Albany, staged apparently to show that firefighters are prepared to battle any rail mishap.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy's relentless stance opposing trains moving through some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods made national headlines.  Last summer, “survival kits” were handed out to South End residents. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple:   "They have basically meals ready to eat. They have some purified water in them, a pocket radio, a flashlight, a poncho, goggles, a small facial respirator, there's gloves, there's tape, there's a small first aid kit. These are things that people will need in a hurry and necessary to survive."

This month, trustees in the Putnam County village of Cold Spring and the Philipstown Town Board passed resolutions expressing concern over the transportation of crude oil by rail, barge and ship along and on the Hudson River.

Greene and Columbia counties have been preparing for any potential train incident. The railroad moves other flammable materials including ethanol along the line.  Greene County Emergency Services Director John Farrell says he's been meeting with fire officials and making pre-emergency and evacuation plans.    "In the town of New Baltimore and in the village of Coxsackie, in the village of Catskill, we have residents very close to those trains, especially down into the hamlet of Smith's Landing on the southern end. I have brought New Baltimore Fire, West Athens Limestreet Fire, Catskill, and we've also touched base with Malden West Camp, which is a fire company in Ulster County, they have a contract with the town of Catskill, to respons to Smith's Landing. And also at the table, we have representatives from State Fire helping us put the training together."

Columbia County emergency services are also involved and attended a training session Wednesday.  Local schools are participating in drills and emergency plans are being tweaked.  Farrell adds training and drills will intensify in the coming months.

As warmer temperatures near, Sandy Steubing of PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, has an ominous warning:   "Because we are facing catastrophic climate change. Because the Bakken is highly explosive. And because there are alternative green technologies, PAUSE is opposed to any additional fossil fuel build out via pipelines or the bomb trains. The proposed pilgrim pipeline is the 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. Do the leaders in Greene and Columbia know that there are about 300 pipeline accidents each year costing millions in damages? It is time to switch to renewables."

CSX  operates trains that transport oil through Greene and Ulster counties. It told the Register Star it would cooperate with lawmakers to improve safety standards.

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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