Local Assemblymembers Want Risks Posed by Crude Oil Trains Addressed

The recent dangers exposed by incidents involving crude oil transportation have been at the top of the agendas of Capital Region Assemblymembers Patricia Fahy (D-Albany), John T. McDonald III (D-Cohoes), and Phil Steck (D-Colonie). Today, they announced the introduction of legislation to address the storage facilities of bulk petroleum (A.9926); to strengthen penalties when trains block crossings (A.10086), and to create a private right of action so that, in the event someone is harmed by violation of that law, they can recoup their losses (A.10085); and bill language is currently being drafted to increase the balance of the state’s oil spill fund to 2014 standards.

The trains carrying this highly volatile crude oil pass through many parts of the Capital Region, in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. Fahy, McDonald and Steck are calling for an environmental review of the practice, especially considering that the state legislature and the executive branch, as far back as the early 1970’s decided, in statute, that:

“…the state is the trustee, for the benefit of its citizens, of all natural resources within its jurisdiction; and that the storage and transfer of petroleum between vessels, between facilities and vessels, and between facilities, whether onshore or offshore, is a hazardous undertaking and imposes risks of damage to persons and property within this state.”(Article 12, NYS Navigation Law)

While we are awaiting additional federal measures, Governor Cuomo has called for doubling the number of rail inspectors in the state. Fahy, McDonald and Steck said they support the call to increase the number of these safety personnel, but say more needs to be done.

"The unabated growth in the transportation and storage of crude oil in our state is alarming not only to me but to my fellow legislators and concerned citizens,” Assemblymember Fahy said. “It is my hope that this legislative series will serve as a preventative measure to ensure that rail traffic remains safe for all, secures taxpayers from excessive liability, and protects our environment.”

“As the economy continues to improve we have seen increased rail traffic for a variety of reasons including the transport of Bakken Crude Oil,” said Assemblymember McDonald. “Regardless of the reasons, it is imperative that rail traffic remain safe and have minimal impact on the safety and well-being of the residents and the environment. Additionally it is critical that we protect communities in the unlikely occurrence of derailment or incident that can cause serious harm. This package of bills put forth by the delegation will seek to update standards that have not been reviewed for some time and will allow for the rail industry to continue to conduct its business as our economy continues to thrive.”

The trains that transport the Bakken crude oil travel great distances, passing through residential areas across the country. Many citizens are rightfully concerned about the hazardous and volatile nature of the liquid. Another issue that has come to light is that some of these trains are so long that they are breaking existing NYS law by taking more than five minutes to clear a crossing. This is an issue that is alarming as towns in the Capital District have railroad crossings that can block emergency personnel from gaining access to the communities they serve.

“Whether these trains are stopped still in their tracks, or are occupying railroad crossings for more than five minutes in villages such as Menands, this can lead to first responders having to take longer, indirect routes in the event of an emergency,” Assemblymember Steck said. “Trains traveling with highly flammable materials are enough for concern. But the problem of trains stopped on their tracks frequently and for great lengths of time adds even more opportunity for something to go wrong in our community. This package of bills will, from the State perspective, address the issues that have drawn concern from our communities in an effort to ensure safety,” said Assemblymember Steck.

In addition to the legislation sponsored by the delegation regarding these trains, the Assemblymembers are also calling for a series of public hearings to be conducted by the Assembly Transportation committee to get public input on this matter and hear from residents directly affected by this. It should be noted that Federal law governs the safety of the train cars and the tracks themselves, so there are relevant issues that are outside State regulatory power.