TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senators Bob Gordon and Nicholas Sacco to improve 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. A second bill passed by the Senate 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 placed at grave risk by the companies that are running millions of gallons of dangerous oil through our communities each week,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “An accident would cause significant harm to our residents. The train operators have to be accountable for the safety of their locomotives and the infrastructure that supports their operations. Especially since we’ve seen instances of derailments on bridges and overpasses, including in New Jersey, those areas are of particular concern. By ensuring state access to inspection reports, operators won’t be able to delay maintenance for extended periods. This will improve accountability of the companies and I believe will contribute to improvements 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 and in Bergen County, where trains run directly over the Oradell Reservoir, our water resources would be in jeopardy,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We have to improve safety and part of that effort is ensuring the operators are properly maintaining the rails, which will help to avoid preventable accidents from occurring. The current system seems to prevent meaningful oversight of their maintenance activities which can lead to lax upkeep and care. In the rail industry, the failure to meet safety standards could be calamitous – this literally is life and death.”
Sponsored by Senators Weinberg, Sacco and Gordon, 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.
“It is imperative that, to the extent we can, we hold companies accountable for ensuring safety along the lines the trains are traveling. We know that trains can be vulnerable to derailments on bridges and overpasses so making sure that maintenance is being done when necessary 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. “By making inspection reports available to the state to be monitored and scrutinized, we will to ensure that the infrastructure is being maintained properly and that shipments meet the appropriate safety requirements in place.”
The second 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 federal government is responsible for overseeing the nation’s railways so our ability to regulate safety is limited. However, we are committed to taking action that is within the state’s authority to protect our residents,” said Senator Weinberg. “We are urging passage of federal safety measures but with these bills we are also taking steps to better ensure that rail companies are held responsible for improving and maintaining safety in our state.”
S2979 was approved by a vote of 40-0. SCR165 was approved 37-3.