Weinberg, Gordon Bill to Improve Rail Safety Clears Budget Committee

Weinberg Session

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Bob Gordon to improve transparency, accountability and safety related to the transportation of trains carrying crude oil through densely populated communities across northern New Jersey, and statewide, was approved today by the Senate Budget Committee.

 

“Our residents are being asked to trust the companies that are transporting millions of gallons of dangerous oil through the center of our communities each week on trains that are ill-equipped to handle the materials,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Information about their operations and safety plans has been kept from the public, and that is unacceptable. Given the safety risk these trains pose to our residents, it is critical that we take action at the state level to protect those who live, work and go to school in close proximity to the rail lines. These requirements will improve accountability of the companies and require proactive planning to better ensure that if an emergency occurs, we are ready to respond.”

 

The increased production of crude oil from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota has led to an increase in the volume of crude oil being transported by rail in North America and throughout the State of New Jersey. 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 bill, S2858, 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 within six months of the bill’s enactment and to renew it at least every five years. A copy of the plan would be kept on file with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management; the bill would require that office to provide each county emergency management office and emergency services provider with jurisdiction along the train travel route with the plan. The bill also includes a provision to ensure the NJOEM shares certain pertinent information it receives from the US Department of Transportation with local emergency officials. In addition, under the bill, the owner or operator of a train would be required to retain on file with the DEP evidence of financial responsibility for cleaning up and removing a discharge or release of a hazardous substance and for the removal of any damaged or disabled high hazard train equipment or parts. It would also be required to make certain information available to the public on its website, including a copy of the current discharge, response, cleanup and contingency plan, so long as it does not conflict with federal law.

 

The bill would require the owner or operator of a high hazard train to offer training to emergency services personnel of every local unit having jurisdiction along the travel route of the high hazard train and, in the event of a discharge that requires emergency response, to deploy sufficient equipment and trained personnel within a certain timeframe. The bill would not apply to the owner of a train operating or traveling entirely within a major facility.

 

“These trains are essentially mobile explosive devices that are traveling through communities near homes, schools, businesses and parks. Our residents are being placed at risk, and unfortunately, there is far too little accountability being asked of the companies operating the rail cars,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We have to improve safety and that means requiring the operators to provide information about cleanup and contingency plans as well as ongoing training to local emergency responders. That is the only way to make sure that if a derailment or any kind of emergency occurs, officials in our communities can respond in an effective way.”

 

The bill was approved by a vote of 12-0. It next heads to the full Senate for consideration.