To ensure a quick and coordinated response in case of an accident, Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson, Tim Eustace, Marlene Caride, Elizabeth Muoio, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joseph Lagana have introduced a bill that would require owners of trains carrying hazardous material through the state to prepare and submit to the state a response, cleanup and contingency plan.
The bill is in response to the 2012 Conrail train derailment in Paulsboro. One of the cars breached spilling vinyl chloride — a carcinogenic gas used in making PVC plastics — into the atmosphere. More than 200 homes in the 2.2-square-mile town were evacuated following the incident. A report from the National Transportation Safety Board found many failures that contributed to the accident and the aftermath, including a lack of a comprehensive safety management program and a failure to use proper response protocols.
“The failures noted in the NTSB report are alarming” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “This bill will help avoid the missteps made in the Paulsboro derailment by holding train companies accountable for proper training of employees, emergency personnel and a thorough emergency response plan.”
“We often don’t think bad things can happen until they do,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This bill holds the owners responsible for ensuring the safety of the communities that these trains travel through, from having a contingency plan to training emergency personnel on how to respond.”
The bill (A-4283) requires the owner or operator of a high hazard train traveling on any railroad track within the state to submit a discharge response, cleanup and contingency plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) within six months of the effective date of the bill.
The bill defines “high hazard train” as any railroad locomotive transporting 100,000 gallons or more of petroleum or petroleum products, or 20,000 gallons or more of other hazardous substances.
“Most of these trains travel through our communities without issue. But when there is a problem, the repercussions can be devastating,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The response to the Paulsboro derailment was problematic. This ensures we are better prepared if there is another spill.”
“These trains are carrying dangerous chemicals that if released, can be detrimental to the well-being of residents and the environment,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Given the risks, it would be irresponsible not to require these companies to have a plan of action in case of an emergency.”
“There were fortunately no fatalities in the Paulsboro derailment, but we may not be so lucky next time,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It is important that we learn from the mistakes made, and take the necessary steps to ensure that the response to any future spills is competent and effective.”
“The response to the Paulsboro derailment may have put emergency personnel at an even higher risk,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic).
“This bill tasks the owners with providing emergency personnel along the train’s route with adequate training to avoid making a bad situation worse.”
The bill also requires that the plan be renewed every five years with the DEP (unless the department requires a more frequent submission), and that any amendments to the plan be filed with the DEP within 30 days of the date of any modification to the train, rail yards, fueling stations or route.
The owner or operator of a high hazard train must retain on file with the department evidence of financial responsibility for cleaning up and removing a discharge or release of a hazardous substance, and for the removal of any damaged or disabled high hazard train equipment or parts. A copy of the plan, or plan renewal, and all plan amendments must also be filed with every local emergency planning committee having jurisdiction along the travel route of the high hazard train.
Under the bill, the owner or operator of a high hazard train is required to post on its website, to the extent that the information does not conflict with federal law, information concerning: the routes and volumes of cargoes updated on a monthly basis; an analysis of the consequences of maximum discharges from the high hazard trains owned or operated in the state; a copy of the most current discharge response, cleanup, and contingency plan; and a railroad routing analysis and any accompanying documentation that impacted the owner or operator’s decision in routing the train through the state.
The bill also requires the owner or operator of a high hazard train to offer training to the emergency services personnel of every local unit having jurisdiction along the travel route of the high hazard train. The bill also requires that the owner or operator of a high hazard train that has experienced a discharge that requires emergency response action to deliver and deploy sufficient emergency response, recovery, and containment equipment and trained personnel to contain and recover the discharged materials and protect the public within a certain timeframe.
The bill requires the DEP to review plans or plan renewals within six months of filing and plan amendments within 60 days of filing. If a plan, plan renewal, or plan amendment is disapproved, the owner or operator of the high hazard train is required to submit a revised plan or plan amendment within 30 days from the receipt of written notice of the disapproval. Lastly, the bill permits the DEP to issue civil administrative penalties for violations under the bill.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.