TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senators Bob Gordon and Nicholas Sacco to improve transparency, accountability and safety related to the transportation of trains carrying crude oil through densely populated communities across northern New Jersey was approved today by the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill package also urges Congress to pass the “Crude-by-Rail Safety Act” to establish stronger rules for rail cars carrying oil and prohibit the use of unsafe tank cars.
“New Jersey residents are being asked to ‘trust’ the companies that are running millions of gallons of dangerous oil through the heart 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 secret and that is unacceptable. Given the incredible risk these trains pose to our residents, we must act to require improved accountability of the companies and proactive planning that will better protect the public.”
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 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.
“These trains are essentially mobile explosive devices that are traveling through communities near homes, schools, businesses and parks. If an accident were to happen, our residents would be at extreme risk of danger,” 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 an emergency occurs, officials in our communities can respond in the most effective and efficient way possible.”
Sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Gordon, 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 and to renew it at least every five years. A copy of the plan would be kept on file with every local emergency planning committee with jurisdiction along the train travel route. Under the bill, the owner or operator 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 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.
“One of our priorities is to hold companies accountable for ensuring safety along the lines the trains are traveling. Incidents across the country have shown that trains can be vulnerable to derailments on bridges and overpasses so making sure that maintenance is being done when it is needed and that the bridges are equipped to handle the load the cars are carrying is extremely important,” said Senator Sacco (D-Hudson), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “Inspection reports must be available to be monitored and scrutinized by the state to ensure that the infrastructure is being maintained properly and that shipments meet the appropriate safety requirements in place.”
Sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Sacco, S2979 would require a company owning, leasing or controlling the right-of-way of a railroad bridge to annually submit bridge inspection reports completed within the preceding 12 months to the Department of Transportation. The company would have to include the bridge inspection standards used to complete the inspection; a copy of the bridge management program adopted by the railroad pursuant to federal regulations; and a certification by a bridge engineer that the bridge is able to carry the loads that travel the bridge on a daily basis. Currently, track owners are required to keep a record of each inspection but do not have to send them to Federal Railroad Administration unless they specifically request them. Track owners are also required to make necessary repairs but are not required to share that information with New Jersey Department of Transportation.
The final measure, SCR-165, sponsored by Senators Weinberg and Gordon, would urge Congress to pass the “Crude-By-Rail Safety Act” to require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the federal Department of Transportation to establish rules to limit the shipping of crude oil that contains volatile components, mandate PHMSA testing and inspections of crude oil rail shipments, and increase the fines for violations of the rail transport standards for hazardous materials and volatile components. The “Crude-By-Rail Safety Act” would also prohibit the use of the DOT-111 tank cars and establish stricter standards for the construction of rail tank cars, which would remove an estimated 37,000 unsafe rail tank cars from the nation’s railways.
“The nation’s railways are largely overseen by the federal government and our ability to regulate safety is limited. However, we are committed to taking action that is within the state’s authority to improve safety and protect our residents,” said Senator Weinberg. “We are urging passage of federal safety measures but with this package we are also taking steps to ensure that we are better protected and prepared in the event of an emergency.”
The bills were approved by a vote of 5-0.