January 27, 2014

Safer rail cars, more information urged

In crisis, emergency responders need shipment data, official says

PLATTSBURGH — A lack of transparency about the materials riding the rails through North Country neighborhoods is a concern for Essex County Emergency Services Battalion Coordinator Dan Benoit.

He acknowledges that local departments are offered training in handling Amtrak and freight-train accidents. But he said more could be done by Canadian Pacific Railroad Ltd. to quickly provide emergency responders with important shipment information.

“They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk as good as they could,” he said.


Specifically, Benoit said he believes national-security regulations prevent local first-responders from gathering information about the contents of freight trains that could be involved in derailment accidents.

“With terrorism, they’re very hesitant to tell you what’s coming through here today or next week,” he said.

A conductor must be contacted or a rail manifest obtained to learn what materials are being transported along North Country railroads on any given day, he said.

Benoit pointed to proposed reform in Canada that he had read about as an alternative to the current system. The plan would station railroad representatives throughout different regions who would be able to quickly get approval to pass along information about freight-train contents in the event of an emergency.

Canadian Pacific representative Ed Greenberg said the company would not comment on speculation about a proposal, but he explained that although real-time shipping information could not be provided, the company is willing to work with local emergency officials to educate them on the types of materials that could pass along the company’s railroads.

“We regularly update and work with local communities across our network on questions of what we move and if there’s any training we can help with,” he said.

“We want to ensure that we’re in step with local first-responders and work with them as part of any preparedness or training that’s required.” 

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