Rail tankers near homes concern residents

BENNINGTON — Long lines of black rail tanker cars, stretching out on both sides of Rice Lane, have put residents on edge, according to state Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington.

Prompted on complaints from neighbors, some of whom live close to the parked tankers, Campion said Friday that he reached out to the governor's office for information and assistance and is considering legislation to deal with the situation.

One of those contacting Campion and state transportation officials was David Bond, a faculty member at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College.

"Over the past few years, a train has been parked each winter on the railway that lines the eastern border between North Bennington, VT and Shaftsbury, VT (just south of Lake Paran)," Bond wrote in an email to Campion and transportation officials. "In previous years, this train consisted of limestone slurry tanker cars. This year the train appears to be an oil train."

Bond added, "The train appears to be carrying pressurized 'non-odorized liquid petroleum gas' and is marked with the hazard sign '1075,' indicating an explosive gas. By my estimation, there are approximately 80 tanker cars parked on the railway tracks."

Copied on the email were Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn and state Rail and Aviation Bureau Director Daniel Delabruere.

Bond said that in North Bennington and Shaftsbury there are "about 15 residential homes within 1,000 feet of where the tanker train is parked (including five homes within about 100 feet of the tanker train. Several hundred homes in North Bennington are within 1,000 feet of the railway that transports these tanker cars, as is a popular fishing spot, a popular swimming beach, and the downtown of North Bennington."

All of the tanker cars parked in the area Friday appeared to be carrying the same non-odorized liquid petroleum gas, according to markings on the side.

"Residents reached out to me," Campion said. "I didn't realize how close they are to people's homes. It's shocking."

Contacting Gov. Phil Scott's staff, Campion said he spoke with Brittney Wilson, the Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs, who said she would seek information from Vermont Rail System on exactly what the cars contain and whether they can be moved away from residential neighborhoods.

Campion said he understands that the contents of rail cars can be considered proprietary information, but he will investigate whether state law could regulate the placement of rail cars in residential areas and require disclosure of any hazardous materials inside.

"I have reached out to legislative counsel about drafting a bill that would let Vermonters know the contents of such tankers and not allow tankers that contain hazardous materials to be parked anywhere near residential areas," Campion said. "It is also important to know why the tankers are even there. Is this for long-term storage? If so, it's not acceptable."

If a company wanted to store hazardous materials in a location, he said, "they would likely need security, permitting, disaster and cleanup plans. Is this a way of avoiding and subsidizing companies at the expense of public safety and risks to the environment?"

Vermont Rail officials could not be reached Friday evening.

In his email, Bond also referred to the 2013 Lac-M gantic rail disaster in Quebec. He said a train of 74 tankers carrying crude oil exploded in a village, killing 47 people.

"In that disaster,," he said, "total destruction extended 1,000 feet from the source of the explosion and extensive damage extended half a mile. The devastation from the explosion, combined with extensive environmental contamination, has destroyed the local economy in Lac-M gantic."

Bond asked the state officials a series of questions, including whether other states limit or prohibit potentially explosive tanker trains in residential areas, whether local volunteer firefighters are equipped to respond to a leak from a tanker car or to fight a fire involving the material listed on the tankers.

And he asks whether there are monitoring devices in place to detect the leak if the gas is "nonodorized," unlike gas used in homes and businesses. Finally, Bond asks whether local water system lines, wetland areas or Lake Paran would be impacted should spills occur.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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