The recent steep increase in the number of potentially dangerous oil-tank rail cars passing through the Port of Albany already has drawn sharp criticism from concerned citizens in the Capital Region. Last week, the Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization, the Adirondack Council, added its voice to the fray.
In a press release, the council said it has “grave concerns about the safety of hundreds of oil tank rail cars moving through the park each day en route from North Dakota, via Canada, to the Port of Albany.”
Many of the trains carrying volatile Bakken crude from North Dakota travel eastward through Canada on Canadian Pacific tracks to Montreal, where they turn south toward Albany. Hundreds of cars a day pass through Adirondack villages, cross the Saranac, Ausable and Boquet rivers, and rumble within a few yards of Lake Champlain. According to council spokesman John Sheehan, about 75 percent of the tracking through the Champlain corridor is within a quarter-mile of the lake—and much of it right next to the water.
“Lake Champlain is being placed at great risk,” said council deputy director Diane W. Fish, “since the tracks in many locations are just a few feet of rocky shoreline from the edge of the water.”
A major concern is that the U.S. Department of Transportation has not placed a moratorium on the DOT-111 cars, known as the “soda-can rail cars,” which leak easily during a derailment and have been blamed for the Quebec accident last summer that killed 47 people. The cars are being phased out, and the DOT has the authority to end their use immediately, but has not done so while immersed in a process of remaking the rules.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan (no relation to John of the Adirondack Council) met with a DOT official last Friday to talk about her concerns with the cars “and urge them to move expeditiously with their rulemaking.”
Sheehan said even rail-industry officials want to know as soon as possible what the new standards are going to be. “The sooner everybody knows the rules, the more quickly they can comply.”