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'Bomb trains' spur push for state inspections at local rail yard

Cheektowaga lawmakers concerned over the safety of oil trains barreling through Western New York are pushing for state inspections at local rail yards.

“We need to make sure oil is transported safely from the source to the user, and reinstating inspections of oil tankers will help us do that,” said Brian Nowak, a Cheektowaga councilman.

A resolution sponsored by Nowak was approved by the Town Board this week. It requested Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resume state Department of Transportation inspections that were halted in February 2017.

The action comes on the heels of a similar request by State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, who asked Cuomo in May to resume the inspections. Shortly after Kennedy's announcement, a local environmental group observed 100 oil-bearing tankers traveling westbound from Albany through the Amtrak station in Depew, said Charley Bowman, co-chair of the Environmental Justice Task Force at WNY Peace Center. "

"We noted four others, eastbound and westbound, between May 1 and June 20," Bowman said. "We can identify a 'bomb train' by the "1267 Hazmat" marking on the tanker."

A group of 18 volunteers gather four times a year to run 24-hour 'bomb train' watches at the Amtrak station. "We've been watching since September 2014 – one for each season."

More than 11,000 tankers carrying crude oil and 5,500 miles of tracks were inspected by the DOT and federal rail agencies from February 2014 to February 2017, Nowak said.

Locally, the inspections were conducted at CSX Transportation Frontier Yard at 1836 Broadway in Cheektowaga and in Buffalo, said Bowman.

"Bomb train" is an expression coined by rail workers in reference to the volatile nature of the crude oil being transported. The derailment of a 72-tanker train outside Montreal in 2013 resulted in 47 fatalities.


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