Canadian Pacific Rail officials were in Essex County this afternoon to explain the company’s safety and maintenance procedures to county leaders.
The meeting was arranged by Essex County’s emergency preparedness director following a series of emails with CP Rail spurred on by an increased number of trains, some carrying oil, along the Lake Champlain corridor. The meeting, while open to the public, was intended to be an overview of CP operations for Essex County officials and emergency responders.
CP Rail manager of Community Relations Randy Marsh offered a nearly hour-long Power Point presentation reviewing the company’s safety standards, training and response procedures. He noted that the rail industry spends more than $ 1.1 billion annually to maintain a safe network. “99.998 percent of all hazmats reach their destination by rail without an incident. Rail is by far the safest mode of transportation. CP’s accident rate regarding hazmats is going down dramatically year over year. So even as shipments go up incrementally the safety of those movements is increasing dramatically.”
Marsh further explained that the railroad does not own rail tank cars. “Tank cars today are owned principally by customers who use tank cars, or leasing companies that own and lease those cars out to customers.”
The Board of Supervisors were the first to pose questions. While some pertained to local problems such as speed limits and crossing issues, several supervisors wanted a deeper examination of CP Rail’s dealings with the rowing number of Bakken oil - or tar sands oil - shipments on the line that runs from Montreal to Albany. Town of Westport Supervisor Dan Connell questioned Marsh about rail car construction. “I’ve had a number of people come into my office and they’re under the impression from the media that if we have these stronger structured cars we’re much safer with this oil. Now, what I’m hearing you say is you have no control over how these cars are constructed.” Marsh responded “Tank car construction can be improved on the pre2011 cars. That’s not the entire fleet. There are quite a few that are post-2011 which are more robust vessels.”
Willsboro Supervisor Shaun Gilliland expressed concern about the increased numbers of tank cars traversing the region. “Can we expect an increased volume of these types of tanker trains and stuff like that coming up?” Marsh again responded. “Whereas we can tell you what we moved yesterday, we have no idea, really, what customers will do tomorrow. That’s up to customers to decide. But the limiting factor in all that is there’s only a certain number of tank cars out there. There’s only a certain amount of track capacity. You can only construct so quickly. It takes almost a year to two years from order to delivery of a new tank car. So there are some limits on the growth in any particular sectors. But other than that, customers may or may not tell us what they believe is their future business.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club is calling for a moratorium on the crude oil shipments along the Lake Champlain rail tracks until the state and federal governments conduct an extensive review of tank cars, spill prevention and response plans and track safety review.