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Bill to Require Operators of ‘High-Hazard Trains’ to Install Emergency Response Plans Clears Senate

TRENTON – The Senate today approved a public safety bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would require owners or operators of “high-hazard trains” to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a discharge response, cleanup and contingency plan, and also mandate that the DEP request periodic bridge inspections from the federal DOT.


“The number of trains carrying highly flammable Bakken crude through New Jersey continues to grow,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We might not be able to curtail the number of trains carrying crude oil through our state, but this legislation will require operators of these trains to be responsible corporate citizens, and to put a plan in place to deal with any unintended discharge of these environmentally hazardous substances into our communities.”


Under the legislation, a “high hazard train” would be defined as any railroad locomotive propelling a railroad tank car or connection of railroad tank cars transporting 200,000 gallons or more of petroleum or petroleum products or 20,000 gallons or more of hazardous substances other than petroleum or petroleum products. Presently, it is estimated that tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil are transported by rail through New Jersey every day.


In Senator Weinberg’s district, in North Jersey, these so-called “oil trains” pass within literal feet of schools, firehouses, houses of worship, and other high density areas, and often stand idle for hours.


“If we cannot stop the flow of these trains that pose great potential danger to our communities, we must ensure that there are smart and practical emergency procedures in place that will limit the damage to our environment and to our residents in the event of an accident.”


The bill, S-991, would require the owner or operator of a high-risk train to have and submit to the DEP within six months of effective date of this legislation a detailed discharge response plan that would include a description of the emergency response measures employed by trained personnel employed by the owner or operator of the high-hazard train. It would further require the operator to identify all equipment available for emergency response and cleanup, and identify the priorities for the deployment of trained personnel to protect residential and environmentally sensitive areas that would be impacted by any discharge.


Additionally, it would require that the response plan provide for simulated emergency response drills, and also require operators to offer training to the emergency services personnel of every local unit having jurisdiction along the travel route of the high hazard train.


The contingency plan would need to be renewed every five years with the DEP.

The DEP could assess violators a penalty of $25,000 for each violation.


The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 29-4.