TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Bob Gordon to improve transparency, accountability and safety related to trains carrying crude oil through densely populated communities across northern New Jersey was approved today by the Assembly.
“These trains are transporting millions of gallons of dangerous oil through communities each week, putting the safety of our residents at risk,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Given the safety risk these trains pose to our residents, we have to take action. These requirements will improve accountability of the companies and require proactive planning to better ensure that if an emergency occurs, the rail company and our emergency officials are prepared to respond.”
“Train accidents and derailments can have dire consequences, and with these trains moving close to homes, schools, businesses and parks, it is imperative that we improve safety,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Part of that effort is to increase transparency and accountability of the operators, but also to ensure protocols are in place that will allow emergency officials to respond quickly and effectively in the event of an emergency. This measure will help to ensure that happens.”
An estimated 30 million gallons of crude oil per week are transported by rail from North Dakota to refineries and storage facilities in New Jersey and neighboring states, traveling through some of New Jersey’s most densely populated areas. Published reports in The Record indicate that 15 to 30 trains go through Bergen County each week on the CSX River Line from New York to Philadelphia carrying the oil shipments.
The legislation (S806) would require the owner or operator of a “high hazard train” traveling on any railroad track within the state to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a discharge response, cleanup, and contingency plan and to renew it at least every five years.
A copy of the plan, or plan renewal, and all plan amendments would have to be filed by the owner or operator of a high hazard train with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. NJ OEM would have to provide each county office of emergency management and emergency services provider having jurisdiction along the travel route of a high hazard train with any information it receives from an owner or operator of a high hazard train as a result of federal Department of Transportation emergency order, rule, or regulation or with any plan, plan renewal, or plan amendments received from an owner or operator of a high hazard train.
Companies would also be required to offer training to emergency services personnel with jurisdiction along the travel route, and to deploy sufficient equipment and trained personnel within a certain timeframe in the event of a discharge. They would also have to retain on file with OEM evidence of financial responsibility for the cleanup and removal costs of a discharge or release of a hazardous substance and for the removal of any damaged or disabled equipment or parts.
Owners or operators would have to make information available to the public on their website, so long as it does not conflict with federal law, concerning: the routes and volumes of cargoes updated on a monthly basis; an analysis of the consequences of maximum discharges from the high hazard trains owned or operated in the State; a copy of the most current plan; and a railroad routing analysis and any accompanying documentation that impacted the owner or operator’s decision in routing the high hazard train through the State. Finally, the state Transportation Commissioner would be required to, annually or when the commissioner deems necessary, request from the U.S Department of Transportation the most recent copy of a bridge inspection report for every bridge owned by a railroad or upon which a railroad is located and submit the reports to the Governor and Legislature.
S806 was approved by a vote of 33-5 in June; the Assembly approved it 54-16-4. It must come back to the Senate to concur with amendments before going to the governor’s desk.