Task Force Releases Municipal Resolutions Calling For Action On Oil Trains

Apr 23, 2015

Oil train passing through Plattsburgh viewed from City Hall.
Credit WAMC Photo by Pat Bradley

There is concern about transporting volatile crude oil by rail across New York. Members of the Clinton County Oil Train Task Force gathered near a rail crossing in downtown Plattsburgh on Earth Day to highlight resolutions passed by local municipalities calling for policies to improve the safety of the trains carrying oil through the region.

Hundreds of rail cars hauling Bakken and tar sands oil pass through the North Country between Montreal and Albany on a daily basis. The Clinton County Oil Train Task Force, made up of representatives from the area’s municipal bodies and the emergency services director, was formed to research regulations overseeing the trains, assist in emergency response plans and work to get technologies and policies for safer transport.

The Task Force has asked local municipalities to pass three separate resolutions targeting the issue. Clinton County Legislature Area 4 legislator Colin Read says the trains are a risk to public safety.   “We have three resolutions we’ve all passed in our municipalities asking our federal government to redouble their efforts to move to much safer train hulls for the oil trains. Asking our state governments to certainly look at moving trains much slower through populated and environmentally sensitive areas. And also asking the industry to redouble their effort to move to the newer safer, and perhaps though not quite safe enough,  trains carrying oil.”

Clinton County Director of Emergency Services Eric Day says the resolutions seek action by the state and federal governments to change railroad operations and therefore the safety of oil shipments.   “Changes to cars that might make them more safe and less susceptible to rupturing when they derail.  Pressure relief devices, thermal jackets. A number of things that just might reduce the potential should there be a derailment.  The biggest single thing I’ve been a proponent of right along, and the resolutions are asking for it, is a reduced speed limit. Particularly in populated areas and areas of great environmental presence. I think moving them slower if they derail then the chance is reduced whether there would be a rupture and a large fire and all that goes with it.”

The Town of Plattsburgh adopted the resolutions. Supervisor Bernie Bassett.  “Last summer I was sitting in the mayor’s office and as I looked out I saw this train with this long length of black tanker cars behind it. I remember saying to the mayor ‘what on earth is that?’ My senses told me this could be a problem.  We were concerned.”

Plattsburgh Town Councillor Tom Wood is a member of the task force.  “We know that other communities are passing resolutions.  The idea is to get as many as possible. This wasn’t even being talked about until lately.  I believe that governmental entities acting together and passing these types of resolutions can have an effect on the way our government officials on the state and national  level view the problem.  And that’s the important thing.  Make them view the problem the way we see it.”

The resolutions have been passed by the city and town of Plattsburgh, the village and town of Champlain, the towns of Saranac and Beekmantown, the village of Rouses Point and the Clinton County Legislature. A vote is pending in the town of Peru.

Concern over crude oil transport has been heightened since the 2013 Lac-Megantic disaster that killed 47, about four hours northeast of Plattsburgh in Quebec.