By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
The lack of information about the contents of freight train cars passing through the county is a safety risk to local officials, Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.
Because of this, Schumer has calling on the federal Department of Transportation to require railroad companies to provide essential emergency responders with accurate real-time information. That information would include the identity and location of hazardous materials on trains.
Under the current law, train companies are not required to inform local officials.
"The irony is the train companies who transport crude oil send the information to the state," Schumer said in a conference call. "What good is it to know about it in Albany when the train is going through Syracuse or Rochester? It makes no sense and it's unacceptable that potential life-saving information is not being shared."
Most of the freight trains travel on two main rail lines through upstate New York. There is CSX, which runs from Buffalo to Albany before heading south to New York City. Then there is Canadian Pacific, which runs from Canada through the north country, Plattsburgh, Lake Champlain, Saratoga Springs, and then down along the Hudson River.
He said having the information on hand would help local firefighters and emergency responders in the event of a derailment or other emergency situation.
What sparks a fire determines how that fire can be managed. For crude oil or ethanol, the primary cargo on the trains, firefighters may use a foam substance rather than water, he said.
Knowing what is on the trains can also allow emergency responders time to determine how wide to make a containment area, how far to stand from the fire, whether locations near the fire need to be evacuated, etc.
Schumer said the idea of informing local officials is not a new one as the National Transportation Safety Board had tried to enact it five years ago. However, the DOT didn't move forward with it.
It is also a known fact, he said, that the current tank cars are prone to rupture when they derail.
"If we don't do this and make it safer, sooner or later we are going to have a horrible incident and that is what I am trying to avoid," Schumer said.