A call for stricter oil train policies

Lawmakers seek to address safety issues, stiffen penalties

— A virtual pipeline of volatile oil traveling through Albany County has local legislators scrambling to create safety nets to protect the county and its citizens in the event of an accident.

Assembly members Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, Phil Steck, D-Colonie and John T. McDonald III, D-Cohoes, recently announced three bills to address risks posed by oil trains. One would require storage facilities to have insur-ance, another would stiffen penalties for trains blocking roadways and the other would create a private right of action in the event a person is injured due to a train blocking a roadway,

A relatively new form of crude oil is being shipped by train from western states to the Port of Albany so it can be put on barges and taken down the Hudson River to oil refineries. Since 2000, the increase in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has created a boom in oil production, and without an actual pipeline, the best way to ship is by train. Nearly 3 billion gallons of oil make their way through the county every year.

High-profile accidents in the recent months have brought more attention to the issue, including an accident in Quebec that killed 47 people nearly a year ago. An oil train derailed in Selkirk rail yard in December, but there were no injuries or environmental issues resulting from that incident.

“Overall, big picture is that the federal government regulates what can be transported on tracks, what types of containers have to be used and the issues related to track maintenance. We’re trying to address issues we can handle under state law. The most significant is blockage of roads,” said Steck.

The length of the trains can create problems when they block crossings, preventing drivers and sometimes emergency first responders from reaching their destinations in a timely manner. Steck introduced a bill that would strengthen penalties for breaking a New York state law that requires trains be able clear crossings in less than five minutes.

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