Overnight, the fireball of the West Virginia oil train derailment alongside the Kanawha River gave fresh credence to year-old demands by Hudson River environmentalists for greater controls over the “virtual pipeline” of crude oil traveling by freight rail through the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys.
The environmental organization Riverkeeper wrote in a February 18 statement:
Every year, billions of gallons of oil move through states like New York – over crumbling bridges, through pristine ecosystems, and alongside schools and businesses. New federal safety rules for the surging industry of rail shipment of crude oil are due out this May – months after they were originally slated to be published. But the plan is riddled with loopholes, and the most obvious step – taking the worst-designed, most dangerous rail cars out of service – wouldn’t happen for years.
In West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency. Up to 300 people were evacuated, the public water supply was shut off due to contamination, a home was destroyed and oil spilled into the Kanawha and tributaries.
The consequences of a derailment along the Hudson could be eerily similar. The freight line runs through densely populated areas and critical environmental habitat, and the communities of Poughkeepsie, Lloyd, Port Ewen and Rhinecliff depend on the river for their water supply.
Riverkeeper has called upon the State of New York to suspend all oil rail traffic headed to the Hudson River Port of Albany and require a formal environmental impact review and statement prior to resumption.
In addition, it has demanded that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation:
- Institutes a speed limit, taking into account rail conditions, environmental and public health risks, and community vulnerabilities, that protects the public.
- Limits the length of these trains, as Riverkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity requested last year, in order to limit the devastation which could result from the next rail disaster.
- Prohibits the use of the 23,000 tank cars identified by the NTSB and PHMSA as being the most vulnerable and least resilient tank cars on the rails. These “worst” tank cars – which include both CPC-1232s and DOT-111s – should not be permitted for use in hauling any other hazardous liquids (such as tar sands crude oil).
- Requires that railroads immediately develop comprehensive spill response plans keyed geographically to each county through which these trains travel. Such plans are required for vessels carrying crude oil, but not for trains – an unacceptable loophole that needs to be closed.
For a full listing of Riverkeeper comments on crude oil transport by rail follow this link.