SCHUMER PUSHES FOR FED SAFETY AUDIT OF TWO CRUMBLING BRIDGES THAT CARRY CRUDE OIL TRAINS ALONG HUDSON RIVER IN TOWN OF CORNWALL

Charles E. Schumer United States Senator for New York | December 23, 2014 | Press Release

Schumer Also Calls For Increase In Number Of Fed Railroad Inspectors; Currently Only 1 Inspector For 3,000 Train Bridges In NYS – Train Companies Like CSX & Norfolk Southern Are Required To Self-Inspect Their Own Train Bridges Once A Year, But Fed Inspectors Play Critical Role in Double-Checking Inspections And Only Enough Staff To Check Up On 1% of Bridges Nationwide

Two Bridges Just South of Storm King Mountain Were Recently Revealed to Have Significant Decay & Crumbling Foundations; If Bridges Are Not Sound, Results Could Be Disastrous, Since Many Hazardous Materials Are Transported Along The Route – Bridges Are Owned By CSX, Which Is Tasked With Ensuring Structural Integrity; Schumer Says That Fed Inspectors Must Audit, Cannot Just Rely on CSX 

Schumer: Feds Must Step In & Ensure Orange County Train Bridges Are Up To Snuff

Today, at the train tracks along Front Street in Newburgh, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer pushed for federal railroad inspectors to audit the safety inspections of two train bridges running along the Hudson River in Orange County that were recently revealed to have crumbling concrete foundations. These train bridges transport hazardous materials up and down the Hudson River, including highly flammable crude oil, and Schumer said that any problem with the structural integrity of the bridge could lead to a major disaster. These bridges are both owned by CSX, which is tasked with inspecting them each year. Schumer said that given the deplorable state of the bridges, a federal audit is needed.

In addition, Schumer launched his push to increase the number of federal bridge safety inspectors nationwide. He noted that there are currently only 7 inspectors tasked with overseeing audits of all of the privately-owned train bridges across the country, which is only enough to audit 1% of them in any given year. Specifically, there is one inspector assigned to over 3,000 privately-owned train bridges across New York State and that inspector is also responsible for bridges in 13 other states. Schumer said that it is unacceptable we have so few rail safety inspectors, and he announced a push to increase the program’s budget and hire more inspectors next year. Schumer said that federal inspectors are critical in ensuring that private companies are keeping bridges safe. 

“Many train bridges across the region are deteriorating, including two in Cornwall where the concrete foundation has eroded, vertical cracks have emerged, rebar has become exposed, and bolts that have become loose or have fallen off altogether. These bridges run right along the precious Hudson River and every day there are freight trains carrying hazardous materials and crude oil right over them. Any problem with their structural integrity could lead to a disaster of epic proportions and we must do all we can to avoid that nightmare scenario,” said Schumer. “These bridges are inspected once a year by CSX, but given their deplorable state, I am calling on the Federal Railroad Administration to send an inspector to Orange County to conduct an independent audit. We must make sure that these bridges are not at risk of collapsing.” 

Schumer added, “In addition, we must increase the number of inspectors that are available nationwide. Right now, there are only seven to cover the whole country, including just one to audit the 3,000 privately-owned train bridges in New York State…and that inspector also oversees bridges in 13 other states. It does not take a rail safety expert to know the math doesn’t add up. So I will be fighting to secure an increase in funds to hire more train bridge inspectors so we can ensure that prive companies are keeping these bridges in top-notch shape.” 

Schumer explained that there are currently an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 privately owned rail bridges in the U.S., and there are over 3,000 privately-owned train bridges across New York State. Many of these bridges are owned by companies like CSX and Norfolk Southern, and used predominantly for freight shipping, including the transport of hazardous material and crude oil. For this reason, Schumer said the safety of the rail bridges across Upstate New York is critical. Schumer explained that, while public roadway bridges must be inspected at least every other year—a task which in New York State falls to the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT)—privately-owned railroad bridges do not have this same requirement. Instead, train companies like CSX or Norfolk Southern are required to self-inspect their own train bridges once a year and are subject to oversight by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). While the FRA bridge safety experts are charged with auditing and reviewing the safety reports conducted by each railroad, they are often unable to review and audit much more than 1% of them in any given year. Schumer said this is because there are currently only 7 federal inspectors for all of the privately owned train bridges across the country. 

Schumer said this lack of consistent inspection is concerning, and in the case of the two crumbling bridges in Cornwall, Schumer wants to make sure it is not leading to problems with the structural integrity of the bridges. According to local environmental experts from Riverkeeper, Inc. in the Hudson Valley, these two bridges have been experiencing crumbling concrete foundations for several years now. Based on the NYSDOT railroad bridge inventory database, the two bridges in Cornwall were built in 1904. These bridges have sustained more than 100 years of use and transport upwards of 30 CSX crude oil shipments per week. Schumer said that these shipments are particularly troubling given the poor condition of the bridges. With an increasing number of freight trains—including those with outdated DOT-111 tank cars, carrying volatile crude oil—traveling across the region, it is critical that communities be reassured that the bridges in their towns and cities are safe and structurally sound. That is why Schumer is calling on FRA Bridge Safety Specialists to inspect the two train bridges. Schumer said auditing these two deteriorating bridges is of the utmost importance, as further deterioration could jeopardize the safety of Orange County communities and the purity of the Hudson River. By auditing these bridges and reporting back on what needs to be repaired or replaced, these federal inspectors can help the local community in its efforts to keep the area safe. 

Schumer is also pushing to increase the total number of federal bridge safety inspectors around New York State and the country. Schumer said that given their meager staff and dense caseload, it is nearly impossible for the seven federal inspectors to address all of the potential safety concerns surrounding these bridges and, as a result, it is possible that issues may be slipping through the cracks. Specifically, there is one inspector assigned to the over 3,000 private train bridges in New York State alone, and that inspector is also responsible for auditing bridges in 13 other states. Schumer said these federal inspectors play a critical role in double-checking the inspections conducted by private railroad companies, but they cannot perform anywhere near the number of audits they should be performing because they are so short-staffed. If an FRA specialist finds a problem, they may require additional review by the railroad or upgrades or maintenance. In emergency situations, they may shut the bridge down entirely. Schumer said that it is unacceptable to have so few rail safety inspectors, and he announced a push to increase the program’s budget and hire more federal inspectors next year. Schumer said that federal inspectors are critical in ensuring that private companies are keeping bridges safe, and to ensure bridges like these two near Storm King – which have deteriorated significantly over the years – are not at risk of collapsing. 

Schumer said there is not enough federal oversight over these bridges and the FRA must be provided the resources needed to audit more bridges. In addition, Schumer noted the FRA currently relies almost entirely on individual railroads to inspect, maintain and repair their own bridges and trestles, some of them built more than a century ago like the ones in Cornwall. Schumer said the funding level for the rail bridge safety specialist program is currently just over $1 million per year. Schumer said that even just doubling this federal allocation would enable FRA to add at least seven more inspectors and help cut down on the heavy caseload. Doing this would in turn drastically increase the number of federal reviews and audits that could occur per year. Schumer said this would improve the level of safety for the residents and businesses within the vicinity of these rail bridges. In Fiscal Year 2015, as a part of the appropriations process, Schumer says he will be pushing for increased federal funding that would allow the FRA to hire additional Rail Bridge Safety Specialists. 

Schumer was joined by local and county officials, as well as John Lipscomb, boat captain for Riverkeeper. 

“The transport of crude oil in the Hudson, Champlain and Mohawk Valleys is new to New York State and puts these waterbodies, and the public, at grave risk of a catastrophic accident such as we’ve seen across the continent in the last two years. It’s a fact that our oil spill response and recovery infrastructure are far from adequate in the event of a spill such as the ones which have occurred in the James River at Lynchburg, Virginia or in Aliceville Alabama,” said John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper boat captain. “The risk to our waterways and communities is too great. Preventing an accident is our only and best hope. It’s essential that rail companies, rail lines, rail bridges and all other equipment receive the same independent oversight as 18 wheelers on our highways, crude oil barges on our rivers and commercial aircraft in our skies. Decaying, inadequate or compromised rail bridges, as well as other equipment, must be taken off line immediately, not studied interminably, to protect society and the environment.” 

“The condition of our bridges, roads, and other infrastructure is essential to keeping our residents safe and the economy moving. We are grateful to our federal partners for focusing on a subject so essential to the safety of Orange County residents in particular and the vitality of our economy more broadly,” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. 

Storm King Mountain is a go-to destination for residents and visitors looking to hike the beautiful Hudson Valley. The Storm King State Park brings thousands of tourists to the lower Hudson Valley every year. Schumer said businesses, art centers and other tourist destinations rely on the environmental beauty of Storm King, and any damage to this bridge – particularly if it put train cars at risk – could be disastrous for the surrounding communities and the local economy. Storm King Mountain has several popular trails for residents and tourists, which offer unparalleled views and scenic hikes to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Hudson Valley. It is also an environmentally protected area that could be disturbed and damaged by any injury to the bridges. 

Riverkeeper is a watchdog organization located in the Hudson Valley that is dedicated to protecting the Hudson River, its tributaries, and the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. Recently, Riverkeeper’s John Lipscomb used a small boat to visit two rail bridges along the Hudson River in Cornwall, where he documented the deplorable conditions of the concrete foundation, as well as the eroded vertical cracks, exposed rebar, and the bolts that have become loose or were missing altogether. For more information on Riverkeeper, Inc.’s report on the state of the two bridges near Storm King, click here. 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Federal Railroad Administration appears below: 

Dear Administrator Szabo: 

I write to urge you to inspect three railroad bridges in the Hudson Valley: two bridges south of Storm King Mountain, along the Hudson River, and the Kingston Bridge, which is located over Roundout Creek in Kingston. Recent reports have indicated that these bridges are in poor condition, with crumbling concrete foundations, vertical cracks, and other worrying signs of disrepair. Members of these communities are concerned about the safety of these bridges, and I am requesting your help to ensure that they meet all necessary safety standards.

 As you know, American railroad companies are responsible for inspecting their own bridges. They are also tasked with submitting lists of their bridges, bridge management plans, and other important records to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). A 2013 report released by the New York State Office of the State Comptroller, however, found gaps in the bridge inspection and reporting process. With an increasing number of freight trains—including those with outdated DOT-111 tank cars, carrying volatile crude oil—traveling across the region, it is critical that communities be reassured that the bridges in their towns and cities are safe and structurally sound. 

I appreciate your consideration of this request and your continued to commitment to making our nation’s railways as safe as possible. Should you have any questions or need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office. 

Sincerely, 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

http://www.schumer.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/schumer-pushes-for-fed-safety-audit-of-two-crumbling-bridges-that-carry-crude-oil-trains-along-hudson-river-in-town-of-cornwall_concrete-foundation-has-deteriorated-and-fed-inspectors-must-step-in-to-ensure-bridges-not-at-risk-of-collapse

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.