NJ may require high-hazard trains to disclose routes, contents
Legislation imposing new requirements on high-hazard trains traveling through New Jersey, including online disclosure of their routes and contents and consequences of a possible spill, is scheduled for final approval in a Monday vote.
The bill, A3783/S1883, also requires operators of trains carrying hazardous materials to provide the state discharge response, cleanup and contingency plans and offer training to the emergency services personnel in every city and town along their travel route.
Paula Rogovin, co-founder of the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains, said the bill is one of the few ways state lawmakers can try to address hazardous materials transported by rail.
“All the interstate trains are mostly controlled by the federal government,” Rogovin said. “This is really our way of providing transparency and protecting the public as much as possible.”
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said hundreds of rail cars carrying hazardous materials move through New Jersey every day.
“When the public understands what’s going through their towns, they will help demand action to make sure that there are proper plans in place,” Tittel said.
Among the destinations of the trains is the Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery in Linden, which shop steward Patty McCarthy of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 877 says receives 100-plus train cars of Bakken crude every day.
“It’s in really close proximity to a lot of residences, ballparks, places where people frequent. And that’s only one of the many volatile chemicals that run through our refinery,” McCarthy said. “Passing this bill would not only save lives but save potential billions in compensation for victims and the reconstruction of any infrastructure that gets destroyed along the way.”
The idea was vetoed in 2017 by then-Gov. Chris Christie, who called it “irresponsible and reckless” to provide information about potential targets for political, criminal and terrorist groups.
Those concerns are shared by Ron Sabol, the New Jersey state legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
“This bill is – its intentions are honorable. Its results are disastrous,” Sabol said. “There is no way we can publicly post commodities and chemicals that are on trains running through our state. A target? Yeah, a target. From anywhere in the world through the Internet.”
Tittel said someone wanting to do harm can already figure out what’s on the trains because they’re marked on the outside with universal codes. Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, R-Bergen, said there are other ways, as well.
“Terrorists out there can find any piece of information if they choose to. We shouldn’t be naïve enough to think that they won’t,” Rooney said. “We have the ultimate responsibility to protect not only our first responders when they show up … but we have a right and an obligation to protect our residents.”
Most of Rooney’s Republican colleagues oppose the bill. Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said that “disclosing this information and making it very public actually makes our infrastructure more vulnerable, not more safe” and that perhaps it should be disclosed to first responders but not the general public.
“For as much intelligence as I’m sure our terrorist enemies can obtain, I don’t see why would wrap it in a bow and put it on the internet,” Webber said.
“The motivations of many of the supporters of the bill, all due respect, is pretty clearly an attack on just the use of fossil fuels in the state, not citizen safety. That’s fairly obvious,” he said.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, who was Paulsboro mayor when a Conrail train went off the rails in 2012, spilling vinyl chloride, said not much has improved since then.
“I don’t see this as being anti-rail at all. I see this as a wake-up call to the national rail companies,” Burzichelli said.
“This is a message that has to be sent from the state level to these operations that you are going to be held responsible and you’ve got to do better,” he said. “I’m not saying go away. We need you. But you’ve got to do better.”