Veterans of oil-train disasters convene in Albany

Capital New York | June 9, 2015 | Column by Scott Waldman

ALBANY—People incinerated. Fireballs in the sky. Firefighters retreating from burning oil tankers.

Oil trains in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Those were just some of the horrific images described by emergency officials who have responded to oil-train explosions around the country and in Canada. They traveled to Albany on Monday for a forum hosted by Albany County executive Dan McCoy to address the dangers posed by the great number of oil trains now moving through New York.

“Until you see this for real, you can't imagine what this horror is like,” said fire chief Tim Pellerin of Rangeley, Maine, who responded to an oil train fire in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that killed 47 people in 2013.

Audiences members gasped as Pellerin showed images of burned-out oil tankers in the Quebec village next to blackened spots where homes had been. He described the sight of dogs sniffing for human remains, often in vain. Pellerin recommended that Albany, which has become a major center for oil train traffic, plan for an accident twice the size of the catastrophe in Canada.

Fred Millar, an independent rail consultant, told the crowd of emergency responders, citizen groups and environmentalists at the College of St. Rose in Albany that too many elected officials have simply accepted the word of railroads that the products they are hauling are safe.

Albany County recently released a report on oil trains that called on the Cuomo administration to halt more oil trains, and to aggressively study the potential environmental effects of a crude heating facility at the Port of Albany.  

Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan, under pressure from the Cuomo administration, withdrew from participating in the county's report. Instead, she released her own report, which echoed the administration's view that the flow of train traffic falls under the federal government's purview. 

McCoy has imposed a moratorium on the expansion of oil train operations in and around the Port of Albany and has pushed Cuomo to take a more aggressive stance on the issue.

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers will propose a bill requiring that rail companies increase the amount of insurance they hold to better prepare for disasters. Democratic assembly members Patricia Fahy of Albany and John McDonald of Cohoes and State Senator Tony Avella of Queens, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, are sponsoring the bill.

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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.