Middletown prepared for any railroad accident involving hazardous materials, official says

A CSX company vehicle makes its way down the train tracks at SEPTA's Woodbourne Station. An average of 22 trains each carrying a million gallons of crude oil or more travel the track each week on their way to Philadelphia. - Courier Times

A CSX company vehicle makes its way down the train tracks at SEPTA’s Woodbourne Station. An average of 22 trains each carrying a million gallons of crude oil or more travel the track each week on their way to Philadelphia. – Courier Times

Railroads are the safest way to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials, Middletown Fire Marshal-Emergency Manager Jim McGuire said during a presentation to the township supervisors at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The statistics bear it out, he continued. According to McGuire’s presentation, in 2014, 99.999 percent of United States rail hazmat shipments reached their destination without a release caused by a train accident.

Nationwide, rail hazmat accident rates in 2014 were down 95 percent since 1980, down 74 percent since 1990 and down 66 percent since 2000, McGuire’s presentation added.

There hasn’t been a derailment on Middletown’s 46.8 miles of railroad tracks or any release of a hazardous material from a rail car in the township at least since McGuire started working there in 2001, he told the supervisors.

“Rail lines are not my largest concern for the release of hazardous materials,” McGuire said. “There’s a much higher likelihood of something happening with a gas truck on the roads.”

Nevertheless, Middletown has several plans in place to deal with the possible release of hazardous materials resulting from a rail accident in the township, McGuire added.

“We’re prepared to deal with any accident along the railroads,” he said. “We have a lot of local resources at our disposal.”

Those include a foam truck stationed at nearby Penndel Fire Co. and two more in Bucks County, McGuire said.

According to McGuire’s presentation, rail tank cars built today are “vastly improved over earlier generations, with higher grade steel, better thermal protection, improved valves and fittings, often thicker tanks, and other improvements.”

It continued: “All major railroads have teams devoted to emergency response and maintain networks of hazmat response contractors and environmental consultants, located throughout their service areas, on call 24/7. Railroads also work closely with state and local emergency first responders. In fact, each year, railroads provide training to more than 20,000 emergency responders throughout the country.”

McGuire said hazardous materials often move through Middletown on its railroads but he didn’t have any specific numbers on volume or frequency.

His presentation drew no questions or comments from any officials or residents except for supervisor Amy Strouse.

“We want to commend your department for making sure this (railroad accidents involving hazardous materials) doesn’t become a problem in Middletown,” she told McGuire after the presentation.

Strouse did suggest, however, that perhaps McGuire could attempt to get more specific information about hazardous materials passing through the township on its rail lines and that maybe Middletown could become “part of a broader information sharing program with the railroads.”

How well do you know your railcars?

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