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Albany County Oil Train Summit

A daylong summit on crude oil transportation is under way at the College of St. Rose in Albany.

Albany County hasn't had a major oil train disaster, but County Executive Dan McCoy, erring on the side of "safe, not sorry" called a community "Crude Oil Transportation Summit" to brainstorm and compare notes with officials who have had to deal with such calamities.  "We've never really had to deal with this type of emergency, and hopefully we never do. But we want to be prepared, if something, God forbid like this happens, that we handle it correctly."

During the give-and-take session participants will share their experiences in dealing with oil train derailments and disasters. 

Sheriff Craig Apple says although much of the focus has been on residents of Albany's South End, the danger is countywide.  "My concern is also some  of the tracks where the trains  go 30, 40, 50 miles an hour. If you get a derailment there, you're guaranteed to have a container rip open.  If it happens near the river, I mean there needs to be a plan for that. You're talking about our Hudson River. If it happens out in Watervliet Reservoir  in Guilderland, where trains go through there 35-40 miles an hour, that's the city of Watervliet's drinking water. And then again, you're talking about thousands of gallons of oil. If it's burning, do we have foam? Where is the foam? How much foam do you need? How many gallons of foam do you need to put out three cars? Six cars? Six cars you're probably not going to have enough foam in the Northeast to put out six cars. Two or three cars, you may be able to contain it.

Dr. Fred Millar is an expert on rail safety and security  based in Washington, D.C. He says the railroads have hidden documents about the risks and notes Albany is a major center of concern due to the huge flow of crude oil through New York.    "People in Albany are in the lead on this, actually. They have written letters to the railroads saying 'we want to see your hidden risk documents.' That means worst-case scenarios, that means your catastrophic insurance documents, that means your comprehensive emergency response plan, and that means your routing documents. These are things that railroads have gotten themselves exempted for in terms of the federal laws that have been passed along these lines."

Sandy Steubing with the People of Albany United for Safe Energy is one of those letter-writing people mentioned by Millar.   "PAUSE has just sent letters to CPX and C P railroad asking them for their worst case scenarios, and their comprehensive emergency plans for crude by rail... Due to the health and safety risks of crude by rail PAUSE decided to add it's voice to other communities across the nation who are also asking for these hidden documents, in what we hope will be a critical mass of requests. We know the railroads have prepared these documents because they need them for their own insurance requests."

Millar believes it's time to end the railroads' position as being the outlier as an industry that does not have to tell the public what they know about their own risks.

Oil processor Global Partners LLC and CSX did not respond to requests for comment.

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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