IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Train Safety Raised as Issue in Hospital Debate

The train tracks pass within a half mile of the site proposed by the Mohawk Valley Health System.

(TNS) - Trains carry crude oil and toxic chemicals through Utica, a fact that has become part of the debate over the proposed downtown hospital.

The train tracks pass within a half mile of the site proposed by the Mohawk Valley Health System. The group #NoHospitalDowntown has been sounding the alarm over whether it makes sense to build a hospital in an area likely to be evacuated in case of a train wreck that results in a fireball.

Many train safety advocates refer to the area within half a mile of tracks as the red zone.

Brett Truett, a co-founder of the group that opposes the downtown hospital site, warned about the proximity between the site and the tracks in an April 10, 2016, Facebook post.

"It was further explained that in the event of a train derailment, especially one carrying toxic materials, a certain radius around the crash site would need to be evacuated," he wrote. "If this were to include the new hospital, a compound problem would exist; the hospital might need to be evacuated, yet potential accident victims would be seeking care at the hospital."

But Kevin Revere, director of the Oneida County Department of Emergency Services, dismissed the need to weigh that concern in siting a new hospital.

"To me, it's a nonissue. It's so small (a risk), it really shouldn't be under consideration," he said.

'Safer than ... roads'

Dangerous liquids are transported by trains because that's the safest method, Revere said. "It's safer than putting it on roads across the country," he said.

That's not to say that the trains don't concern Revere as they pass by many houses and businesses in the county. But the hospital would, first of all, be noncombustible construction, he said.

And the odds of a train derailment affecting the hospital are tiny, he said.

"Something would have to happen literally right there, a little ways from there," he said.

Life is full of scary scenarios with a much higher likelihood of occurring, he said.

Scott Perra, health system president/CEO, said the health system and the county have done extensive research on the issue. Transportation officials do not use the term "red zone," he said.

And CSX, a transportation company that runs freight trains through Utica, says it works with many communities on safety concerns.

"CSX operates an extensive network, encompassing 21,000-plus miles of track through 23 states and thousands of communities, making public safety a top priority," CSX said in a statement sent to the O-D. "CSX works closely with local and state economic development groups, planning departments and commercial real estate professionals in support of growth for communities. Typically, CSX is actively involved in commercial projects involving businesses that use freight rail in their operations. CSX's goal is to balance the needs of growing communities with that of our freight rail customers."

Lax regulations?

Fred Millar, an independent rail safety consultant in Washington, D.C., with a background in both emergency management and environmental advocacy, said that guidelines don't prevent construction near tracks.

But he doesn't think that's because building near a rail line is safe. He said he thinks rail safety rules are far too lax with even common-sense precautions fought off by the industry.

"There's not rules in the country, that I know about, in terms of land use in terms of planning and zoning that say you can't do this near a rail line," he said.

He particularly fears the potential outcome of either the derailment of or a terrorist assault on chlorine tankers, which could release a huge cloud of toxic gas.

If the health system really looked at the risks, it would likely choose to go elsewhere, Millar speculated.

"We shouldn't even build railroads through major developed areas," he said.

The Trump administration recently rolled back one new regulation from the Obama era requiring trains carrying crude oil and hazardous chemicals to update to safer braking systems.

That regulation came in the wake of several train accidents that spilled crude oil and caused fires, some of which burned for days. The worst was in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a runaway train car spilled oil that burned downtown, killing 47 and destroying 30 buildings.

Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).


©2018 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

Visit Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.