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Schumer says new rail car safety rules don't go far enough

Ellen Abbott
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in Syracuse Monday.

New federal rules about the safety of rail cars that carry crude oil through upstate New York towns like Syracuse don’t go far enough according to Sen. Charles Schumer. He says it’s now time for Congress to get involved.

Schumer doesn’t like the long-awaited Department of Transportation regulations meant to improve the safety of the train cars carrying flammable substances, which he calls "TNT on wheels.”

"There are serious holes in the regulations the DOT commissioner put out, and we’re going to fill those holes, and fill them immediately,” said the senator.

Standing in front of a railroad bridge in Syracuse’s Armory Square yesterday, Schumer says there are a number of ways proposed legislation will do that -- a faster phase out of the most dangerous oil cars on the rails today, and expanded speed limits when trains carrying the flammable materials moves through populated areas like central New York.

"We put in a stipulation that in any area, where the top population density is greater than 20 people a square mile, the speed rules  are in effect. That would include all of central New York. Not just downtown Syracuse, but all of the suburbs and some of the rural areas.”

Currently those limits are only in effect in New York City and Buffalo. Schumer says the recently announced rules aren’t enough to keep communities safe, especially because of the increased number of trains carrying the Bakken crude oil from North Dakota, which is a particularly volatile substance.  

“About five years ago, about three rail cars carrying oil, volatile oil came through our area. Now it’s over 300 a day. And the oil that’s contained is highly flammable and volatile.  God forbid there’s a derailment.  The loss of life and damage to property would be enormous.”  

Schumer says there is bipartisan support for the bill, and he expects it to pass, although he anticipates opposition from the oil industry.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.