McCoy Leading the Fight on Oil Trains

From: Times Union

Story by: Brian Nearing

Robert Lipscomb has seen what happens after an oil train derails and explodes in flames. On Sunday, he stood near the fence at the Ezra Prentice Homes on South Pearl Street in Albany, looking at oil tanker cars just a few yards away.

"I am very surprised that this is so close to a residential area," said Lipscomb, who is a battalion fire chief in Lynchburg, Va., where a July 2014 derailment of 16 oil tanker cars caused a fiery explosion that spread into the James River.

"We were lucky. It burned itself out in about two hours," said Lipscomb, who is in the Capital Region as part of a panel on oil train accidents convened by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and county Sheriff Craig Apple Sr.

Lipscomb said it was safer for the environment of the river to let the crude burn, rather than try to extinguish it and clean up the remains.

"We need to hear from experts and the lessons learned," said McCoy, who has been critical of oil train safety measures and had imposed a moratorium on a planned crude oil heating plant at the Port of Albany that opponents fear could be used to process Canadian tar sands oil.

Lipscomb will be part of a presentation from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday at the College of Saint Rose on oil train accidents. Also speaking will be Tim Pellerin, chief of a small Maine fire department called after an oil train blew up in July 2013 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people; Chuck Pedersen, an emergency services director in Daviess County, Ill., the site of a March 2015 oil train derailment and fire; andFred Millar, an independent rail safety expert.

Pellerin said the massive blaze at Lac Megantic could be seen in the sky more than 20 miles away in his small community of Rangely, which sent its firefighters to the stricken town under a mutual-aid agreement.

Arriving about two-and-a-half hours after the crash, Rangely firefighters encountered a scene that looked like "going into hell," he said.

"All you could smell was petroleum for miles around," he said.

He said 85 mutual aid fire departments worked in Lac Megantic for three weeks to deal with the catastrophe.

As part of a whirlwind tour of the presence of oil trains in the Capital Region, McCoy took his panelists to view the massive CSX railyard from atop the Route 396 bridge, to a community park in Menands that sits next to the railroad tracks where oil trains rumble past almost daily and to the Ezra Prentice Homes.

"You guys just missed an ethanol train that came through," said Menands resident Nancy Casler, as she spent a summer evening at Ganser Smith Memorial Park, where a childrens' baseball game was being played. She said her home on Tillinghast Avenue is about 30 feet from the railroad tracks, so close that the rumbling of 100-car oil trains wakes her up at night.

Located on the west side of the tracks, the park is part of a neighborhood that has only two roads in and out — Menands Road and Brookside Avenue.

If trains stop in a way that blocks both roads, the residents are cut off. Casler said the village held a drill recently to test using an emergency evacuation route through the parking lot of the nearby Riverview Center (the former Montgomery Ward building).

bnearing@timesunion.com • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10