Lawmakers draft legislation in response to Paulsboro train derailment
Following revelations of serious safety missteps before and after the derailment of a chemical train in Paulsboro three years ago, legislation is in the works to better respond if a similar situation ever arises again.
The derailment of the Conrail train sent four aging tank cars into Mantua Creek. One car ruptured, spilling 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the creek and its fumes into the air.
A National Transportation Safety Board report on the Paulsboro train derailment and spill pointed to some major mistakes, including train speed, track safety and lack of a coordinated response by Conrail. The NTSB also cited a failure to use proper response protocols.
In response to the federal report, legislation is in the works in Washington and Trenton.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Congressman Donald Norcross are rolling out the "Toxics by Rail Accountability and Community Knowledge" -- or TRACK -- act to hopefully improve rail safety as it pertains to the transportation of hazardous materials.
The bill would heavily penalize railroads that violate safety standards and require up to date and accurate information on what is being transported by rail to assist first responders in the event of an accident. Part of the bill would improve safety procedures and qualifications for moveable bridge crossings.
Meanwhile in Trenton, several members of the Assembly have rolled out a state bill they believe will tighten safety standards in New Jersey for the rail transportation of hazardous materials. The measure is co-sponsored by New Jersey Assembly members Gordon Johnson, Tim Eustace, Marlene Caride, Elizabeth Muoio, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joseph Lagana.
The bill, (A-4283) requires operators of trains carrying a hazardous cargo to submit a discharge response, cleanup and contingency plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"We want a clear plan in place, and this information put out to all law enforcement agencies throughout the state, so that we all know how to respond to an incident like this," Assemblyman Gordon Johnson said. "We want coming out of this bill, a plan where the railroad and the Attorney General and the OEM, the Officer of Emergency Management, to get together and have a plan in place in case there is a derailment or an accident on the rail cars, to include educating first responders about how to respond to this and also having the resources in place to have a proper first response to it."
One provision of the legislation requires operators of high hazard trains to submit a discharge response, cleanup and contingency plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Another co-sponsor, Assemblyman Tim Eustace, said lawmakers are trying to put safety measures in place to prevent another incident like the Paulsboro derailment.
"There were missteps, and we are hoping that we are addressing them. We are just trying to make sure that things like this don't happen in the future," he said.
Eustace said just as each municipality is required to have a emergency response on file, the companies that operate trains in New Jersey neighborhoods should have the same sort of emergency response and contingency plans on file with the state.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.