Two derailments in five days have ignited the interest of many residents living in close proximity to the Selkirk Rail Yard, just eight miles south Albany.
At a facility designed to process 3200 rail cars each day, derailments at the 1250 acre site occur relatively infrequently. The two that occurred this past week are the first of their kind since a CSX boxcar derailed west of Schenectady in January. Nonetheless, the timing of it all makes it all to easy to criticize the transportation of oil on local railways.
Today, July 6 marked the third anniversary of the Lac-Megantic tragedy, when an unmanned, 74-car freight train rolled into the Canadian border town, derailed and ignited — killing 47 people.
The prospect of such an event occurring in the Capital District has been a topic of concern for Albany County Executive Dan McCoy ever since. Indeed, articles on the topic have appeared here in Spotlight Newspapers, from discussions circulating around the close proximity of housing along the Port of Albany, to the rail cars that traverse through the small towns along the way. Concerns about the potential danger became an local issue after former Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings neglected to notify the public that the state Department of Environmental Conservation had approved a permit allowing Global Partners to significantly increase the volume of volatile fuels traveling through the Capital District–without requiring any additional oversight.
But, the court of public opinion is not solely focused on rail transportation, which has been a major hub of business for Albany since the railroad tycoons of Erastus Corning and Cornelius Vanderbilt of the 19th century. No, the focus is more on oil. Environmental concerns coupled with a growing distrust for big oil companies, have people scrutinizing all actions concerning fossil fuels. Should an alternative measure be possible, whether in transporting the goods or consuming energy all together, the loudest of opinions votes for the safest, cleanest and greenest of options.
For example, just a few months ago the Town of Bethlehem spoke out against a proposed natural gas line that was to run through Selkirk and make way to the Port of Albany. The Town Board voiced protest, and only coincidentally was the proposal postponed indefinitely. But, there is yet another proposal for pipelines to run through town, this time oil, to run predominately along with the New York state Thruway. That proposal is being watched with just as much scrutiny.
As we enter the last half of 2016, much of our society is still dependent on fossil fuels. To the fuel it provides to our automobiles, to the tires and blacktop we ride upon, to the plastics ever-present in our daily lives. As much as many of us push hard for a environmentally safer means of energy, our society is not prepared to walk away from oil and natural gas. The transport of these fuels, too, are necessary. So, if not by train, and not by pipeline, then how?