Railway Criticized for Storing Flammable Gas in Tankers

By Brenda Flanagan

On some side tracks in the woods, 15 tankers sit in the sun, each holding 40,000 of highly-flammable liquefied petroleum gas — butane and propane.

If just one explodes, Washington Township Mayor Kenneth “Bill” Roehrich said, “Up to 3,000 feet is the zone that it would affect, so that’s what we’re working with at this point. That’s what our OEM and our fire and rescue have been dealing with to try and enforce a plan to deal with it, if it should happen. Obviously our concern is the safety of our citizens and the children in the school.”

That’s why Washington Township’s mayor is alarmed by the Morristown and Erie Railway’s plans to add up to 85 more cars, parking them on tracks that run right behind houses in Mount Olive — within 1,000 feet of West Morris Central High School.

“I wasn’t aware. Considering the blast zone you just cited it makes me feel a little uneasy, so I’ll have to look into it,” said Mount Olive homeowner Henry.

“It’s a volunteer fire department. We’re not prepared for this type of situation — to man that area 24 hours a day to keep it safe,” said Roehrich.

The railroad insists it’s safe.

“These are the newest cars that pull this material — they’re very, very thick — and we’ve set up safety measures for where they are,” said John Fiorilla, attorney for M&E.

Morris County owns these tracks and says it signed a five-year contract to let M&E use them to transport freight, not stockpile flammable gas.

“They brought in rail cars that are butane-filled, will be bringing in propane cars as well, to store at a portion of the line without letting the county know in advance. That doesn’t give us a chance to understand what these cars are, what the safety concerns are and to create an emergency plan of some sort,” said Morris County Spokesman Larry Ragonese.

“The definition of what railroads do — in regards to hauling freight — includes storage of materials and transit. And that’s exactly what this is and if fact the contract prohibits us from storing certain materials in transit at certain locations, but not this locations,” said Fiorilla.

The county today asked Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury to block M&E’s plans, but the judge told attorneys to work it out. They’re doing that. The judge also refused to let our news camera into his courtroom.

A Morris County judge has directed M&E Railway not to bring any more liquefied petroleum gas tank cars to the storage site. The railway must meet with county and local emergency officials and work out a safety plan to address any potential problems. They’ll all be back in court June 20. Meanwhile, local fire and rescue teams will be made aware of how to deal with fire and leaks.