BUFFALO, N.Y – (WIVB) – A fiery train derailment in Virginia is bringing the debate over oil rail car safety into the spotlight once again.
On Wednesday smoke billowed over downtown Lynchburg after a train carrying crude oil jumped the tracks and caught fire.
The fact is these controversial tank cars roll through the Buffalo-area every day. But emergency responders don’t have access to real-time information about the hazardous materials they carry.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to change that.
“Require the railroads to notify our firefighters and first responders when flammable materials on rail are going through their area,” Schumer told News 4 during a satellite interview from Washington, D.C.
News 4 raised this same question to local hazmat experts back in February.
“Anything that they can do to provide real-time information to us so that we have it immediately is going to help us,” Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield acknowledged.
News 4 reported months ago that the National Transportation Safety Board had already recommended that real-time information being given to emergency responders.
Jeffrey Hartman, Erie County’s Hazmat Team Commander, told News 4 Investigates in February that as long as the information is shared securely he’s in favor of it.
“The more information we have the sooner in the process the safer it is for everybody,” Hartman explained.
A comprehensive state report released on Wednesday is shedding some light on the crude oil boom, and the impact to places like Buffalo.
New York State has become a major rail channel for the transport of crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Canada to refineries on the east coast, the reports states.
CSX and Canadian Pacific, two major rail lines, transport crude across the state. The CSX line carries crude through Buffalo and Syracuse, right to terminals in Albany.
“North Dakota is the fastest growing oil field in America, and 40 percent of the oil that they produce comes right through Buffalo on its way to refineries on the east coast,” Sen. Schumer told News 4 in February.
How much crude oil is traveling by rail across the state?
Here’s what Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for the Environment told News 4 during a telephone interview Thursday.
“We are unsure at this point how much crude oil is actually traveling across the state. We’ve seen a large range of estimates. We know that there are at least from CSX , at least 14 or 15 unit trains each of which has an upwards of 125 individual rail cars that transit the state on a daily basis,” Basil Seggos explained.
Several trains carrying crude have derailed over the past year. The most recent incident happened Wednesday in Lynchburg, Virginia. A CSX train derailed prompting the evacuation of some 300 people.
Sen. Schumer says the Lynchburg incident just reinforces the need for emergency responders to have timely information about hazardous cargo rolling on the rails.
“If God forbid there’s a derailment the more they know the better equipped and more effectively they’ll be able to fight the fire,” he says.
Sen. Schumer is now urging the federal Department of Transportation to issue a rule that would require rail companies to report the contents and schedule of train cars carrying hazardous materials.
The State of New York has been getting aggressive on the issue of crude oil transportation via rail.
Governor Cuomo recently sent a letter to the White House urging immediate federal action to strengthen national standards.
Additionally, the state has been conducting rail and tank car inspections in Western New York and elsewhere around the state.