N.J. considers requiring oil train companies to publicize routes, emergency plans

Lawmakers are considering a bill to mandate disclosures on oil trains in New Jersey. (NewsWorks file photo)

Lawmakers are considering a bill to mandate disclosures on oil trains in New Jersey. (NewsWorks file photo)

A bill awaiting a vote in a state Assembly committee would require train companies operating in New Jersey to publicize the routes of trains carrying volatile crude oil through the state, information currently kept secret.

It would also require the owner or operator of a “high hazard train” to submit emergency response plans to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Office of Emergency Management, and relevant county offices.

“All we’re asking is for information and transparency,” said Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, “that the first responders know what the plans are, that the oil companies … have an emergency plan in place.”

The state Senate has already approved the bill.

“As we have seen in Quebec, train accidents and derailments have dire consequences,” said Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, who also sponsored the bill. “These trains are moving very close to our homes, schools, businesses and parks, so it is imperative that we improve safety.”

Gordon is referring to an accident that occurred in 2013 in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, when a train carrying crude oil derailed and crashed, resulting in a fiery explosion that killed 47 people.

“Having this information would now enable you to develop various risk assessment tools to address all these old problems that you couldn’t address before,” said Lazar Spasovic, a professor of civil engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

But Spasovic also echoed the arguments of critics who claim that publicizing the routes of oil trains poses a security risk.

How do we stay safe while also “sharing information that might, God forbid, fall into the wrong hands and could be used for a potential terrorist attack?” he said.

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