By Brenda Flanagan
Critics call these “bomb trains” because when they derail — as recent accident in Illinois shows — the oily fireballs can burn for days. In Teaneck, these trains pass playgrounds and power stations, schools and homes says the Hackensack Riverkeeper.
“There’s an entire neighborhood of people at risk that are sitting right next to the tracks. And it goes like all the way through Teaneck, into Bogota, all the way down through Newark,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Capt. Bill Sheehan.
Of particular concern — older, thin-skinned tank cars called DOT-1-11s, that “…rupture too quickly when exposed to a pool fire caused by derailment,” according to the NTSB.
“And I don’t want it to happen in New Jersey,” said Congressman Donald Payne.
Payne introduced a bill that would retrofit the DOT-1-11 tank cars with thicker steel jackets, bolstered end caps, thermal shields and pressure release valves to help prevent punctures and explosions during derailments. The bill gives the industry one year to update its fleet or take non-compliant tank cars out of commission.
“I am adamant about we not dragging our feet in this nation with this very serious issue — as these thousands and thousands of these tank cars are moving through our communities every single day,” Payne said.
But last week, the NTSB also rejected the railroad industry’s enhanced CPC-1232 tank cars and recommended across-the-board pressure valve and thermal shield upgrades, noting “…based on a series of accidents the Board has investigated in recent months, performance of the industry’s enhanced rail car, the CPC-1232, is not satisfactory under these conditions…” Investigators point to the oil train accident in West Virginia this February where 19 out of 27 so-called enhanced tank cars derailed and caught fire.
“And these trains don’t have a great track record around the country and in Canada. There’s been so many accidents,” said Sheehan.
And the rate of accidents keeps rising, as more trains haul fracked oil from South Dakota’s Bakken regions.
Activists say it’s not enough to just toughen the tank cars. They say, even if you encase them in armor, if the tracks give way, the whole train goes over.
In Bergen County, the tracks cross an 86-year-old bridge over the Oradell Reservoir, recently inspected by the Federal Railway Administration. One resident was told CSX will replace wooden rail ties with metal but not when — for security reasons, the state says.
“This is a very very dangerous situation and our lives are at risk — and it’s secret? This is top secret? There’s no transparency?” asked Paula Rogovin of the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains.
She says regulations should be changed to give people who live by the tracks more input and information.