Cheektowaga wants governor to reinstate tank car inspections

Railroad tank cars are stopped along Broadway on May 22, 2017. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Railroad tank cars are stopped along Broadway on May 22, 2017. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

CHEEKTOWAGA – The Cheektowaga Town Council is calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to reinstate a state inspection program that put an eagle eye on rail tanker cars full of Bakken crude oil.

The inspections by the NYS Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Agency started back in 2014 after a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in Quebec.  The incident killed 47 people, destroyed 40 buildings and 53 automobiles, and spilled 1.58 million gallons of Bakken crude oil contaminating 76.6 acres of land.

“That’s the story of a “bomb train” going off in a populated area,” said Charley Bowman of the WNY Peace Center. “They found something like 40 critical defects over three years, and they issued more than a dozen citations.  They found those defects over and above what CSX rail inspectors have had.”

According to the Town Council, the agencies inspected 11,234 crude oil tank cars and 5,508 miles of track and uncovered 1,863 defects.  They issued 24 violations.

“These inspections are important to keep the people of Cheektowaga safe and the people of Western New York safe,” said Councilmember Brian Nowak.

The inspections eventually stopped when gasoline prices fell, and the trains stopped rolling through New York.  But with gas pricing on the rise again, the trains are moving again.  A resolution bound for the governor’s desk calling on the reinstatement of the inspections said a “bomb train” was recently seen rolling past the Amtrak station on Dick Road.

“We don’t really need this Bakken crude oil,” added Mr. Bowman.  “It’s explosive oil. Senator Schumer has asked the [Federal Railroad Administration] to demand that they declassify the oil before it is shipped on the trains and that has gone nowhere.”

US Senator Charles Schumer called for increased safety measures outside “R” Bar a few years ago according to Councilmember James Rogowski.

“Those tanks are only singled walled,” Mr. Rogowski said.  “Senator Schumer was fighting for a double wall to make them safer.  If a tank fell off there, according to what I heard that day, it would blow up not only “R” Bar, but half the block of Michael [Avenue] and Lackawanna [Avenue].  You would have a major disaster.”

Last year, then-Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman led a coalition of six states urging the Trump Administration to close a loophole that allows highly explosive crude oil to be shipped by rail through communities in New York and across the country.