Sen. Ritchie wants more state oversight of freight trains running through St. Lawrence County
Friday, February 7, 2014 - 5:05 pm

In the wake of a decision by national rail companies to increase speeds on local rail lines, Sen. Patty Ritchie wants the state to boost its oversight of freight trains coursing through St. Lawrence and surrounding counties.

Sen. Ritchie has sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo urging him to expand a new rail safety review he’s ordered into rail transport of crude oil on downstate lines to also include potentially hazardous freight being moved through other communities.

“Community leaders have expressed concern that these higher speed trains could be causing unnecessary risks to neighboring communities and schools, local populations and our environment, should a serious accident occur,” Ritchie said in her letter to the governor.

“It is imperative that, in light of recent incidents and concerns about rail cargo safety, we take every step to make sure that these carriers are complying with our laws and following the best safety practices, that our communities are fully informed, and our emergency services best equipped to deal with possible crises.

“I urge you to consider expanding your review of rail carrier safety in this state to include a broader study of the communities I represent, and the cargoes that are increasingly being transported through them.”

CSX, the region’s main freight rail operator, recently completed track upgrades that allow the company nearly to double the speed of trains along its route from Syracuse to Montreal.

In December, Sen. Ritchie arranged a meeting between CSX and local officials to discuss the new speeds. The railroad pledged to work with communities to address safety issues, and to support First Responders in the event of accidents.

Earlier this week, Gov. Cuomo ordered the commissioners of several state agencies to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and emergency response preparedness related to the oil shipments.

While these shipments occur largely outside of Ritchie’s district, they use a type of tanker car that also is in use here to transport other potentially hazardous cargo.

The DOT-111 tanker was the type that was involved in a massive explosion last summer that leveled much of the town of Lac-Mégantic, near Montreal, killing 47.

A copy of Senator Ritchie’s letter to the Governor is attached, and may also be viewed at www.ritchie.nysenate.gov.