To Keep Or Not To Keep: Oil Train Secrets

Jun 10, 2014

CSX is among U.S. railroads instructed to turn over details regarding volatile crude oil shipments to local emergency responders to assist teams in disaster preparedness.  CSX is asking New York State not to give the public any information about how much oil trains are carrying and what routes they will take.

A federal directive was issued in May following the CSX oil train derailment  in Lynchburg, Virginia. Neither city officials nor emergency responders knew crude was traveling through town the day of the disaster, which triggered a massive fire and oil spill into the James river.

Credit WAMC composite photo by Dave Lucas

CSX and other freight railroads have bristled at the emergency order to disclose and share information about their oil trains and are asking states to sign agreements of secrecy  and pledge  not to disclose that  information to the public.

The oil trains and oil facilities at the Port of Albany have recently been under scrutiny by the community and by elected officials. The capital city has become a national rail hub for oil transport. The typical oil train carries between one and three million gallons of crude. The trains pass through and park along tracks skirting densely populated inner-city neighborhoods.

Peter Cutler, Deputy Commissioner of Public Affairs for the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services says officials are reviewing CSX's request for secrecy.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy thinks such "secrecy" shouldn't even be up for discussion.   "I think it's crazy that C S X and other rail companies wanna keep it secret, what routes their taking and what lines the crude oil, light oil, tar sands oil or any other hazardous product, going to our backyards, should be kept from the people that live there, day and day out. I hope the state denies this. I think Washington already set the stage of saying no and, I think the states come out with an immediate answer saying no.  I understand homeland security issues being in the military. I understand that there are certain things you don't want out there, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where the crude oil is calling from out of Canada and the lines that it's taking. So it's not a secret, it's out there, but people should have a right to know how do we protect ourselves against the stuff that's going through our backyard. And I think if they want to be a good partner they should roll up their sleeves, and say, hey, we're not afraid to let you know what we're rollin'  the volume of oil, or whatever the material is we're gonna work with you and make sure we protect. Not just environment but we protect the residents of the town, cities and villages that we're going through."

Albany political activist Joe Sullivan believes the city and port should take advantage of the flow of oil by building a refinery that would push regional prices of gasoline and home heating oil down. He agrees with CSX that the volumes and movements of crude oil by rail should be guarded in the interest of national security.    "To announce to the public, that includes Al-Qaeda, doesn't it?  Years ago when I was in the navy there was a saying 'loose lips sink ships.' Well, maybe loose lips will blow up trains, and that will be more of a hazard to the public. So I agree with CSX."

Associated Press reports California, Louisiana, and New Jersey have agreed to the secrecy pact.  In Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa and Oregon, the confidentiality proposals are under review.

Wisconsin, Montana, Illinois, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington state have elected not to sign on to secrecy.

CSX did not return calls for comment.