FONDA -- U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, visited Montgomery County on Friday to call on the Trump administration to reverse course on its decision to repeal safety regulations on trains carrying crude oil.
Schumer said the "Fast Act of 2015" put in place rules requiring all freight trains carrying crude oil to be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, which are air brakes. In September, the Department of Transportation repealed the regulation.
Schumer said one reason the new braking systems are needed is the increased number of trains carrying oil on tracks like the CSX line in Montgomery County.
"It's good news that we're becoming independent of foreign oil, that's good, but a lot of it was found in North Dakota, and the best route to take that oil to be processed and refined is right through this rail line to my left," Schumer said, pointing to the CSX line next to the old Montgomery County Courthouse building.
"Oil in these lines is called Bakken crude. It's very flammable and God forbid there was a derailment, there could be a huge fireball, a huge explosion that could ruin lives and put homes at risks. Today, trains with over 80 oil cars come right down this path."
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith said during his 30 years working as a first responder in Montgomery County there have been six train derailments, none with fatalities associated with them, although there have been a number of people killed in train track crossings involving both cars and pedestrians.
He said the last estimates he was given showed approximately 38 trains travel across Montgomery County every day, six of them Amtrak trains. Smith said he was unaware of the safety regulation change until he was contacted by Schumer's office. He said the possibility of a train derailment is the one of the scariest emergencies his office would ever have to deal with.
"We encourage the federal DOT and CSX to do everything in their power to make it as safe as possible. Statistically, rail travel is one of the safest methods, but why not continue to make it safer?" Smith said. "As the senator pointed out, if you go through this county those tracks go right through the heart of St. Johnsville, and Nelliston, and Tribes Hill and Amsterdam, so God forbid there be an incident right now. You can only imagine the kind of devastation it would cause us."
The last train derailment in Montgomery County was on June 27, 2013 when two CSX trains collided in Fonda, injuring two crew members. The Federal Railroad Administration ruled that the crash caused $2.4 million in total damages to the trains, the tracks, Route 5.
Schumer said that despite making record profits, CSX and other train companies have successfully lobbied the Trump administration to remove the brake regulations because they don't want to pay for the cost of the upgrades.
"The technology exists, so why not use it? CSX didn't want to pay for it. But guess what? CSX and the railroad companies are making record profits, which is good, I'm all for the economic prosperity and the jobs it creates, but why not take some of that money and put it into safety. CSX this year did $5 billion in stock buybacks. That means they used money from the big tax cut they got, and who benefited? The top executives," he said.
Schumer said he has raised his concerns with the Trump administration and they haven't responded to him. He said he's called on the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to keep the regulation. He will support legislation in the U.S. Senate requiring the new break systems.