Activists Seek State Officials to Oppose Ethanol Trains

November 21, 2012
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A coalition of activists from East Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Everett joined together last week to ask state officials to join the communities in opposing ethanol trains from coming into the area.

The Chelsea Creek Action Group (CCAG) went to Boston to hand deliver more than 850 postcards to Massachusetts Department of Transportation to Secretary Richard Davey. The postcards asked Davey to support a comprehensive public safety study of the transportation of ethanol by rail through densely populated communities.  CCAG and residents in these communities have been concerned over Global Partners’ proposal to bring 60-car trains carrying 1.8 million gallons of ethanol, a highly flammable material, two times or more per week along commuter rail tracks to its terminal on the East Boston/Revere line.

While Global’s plans have been slowed recently at the state level by legislation co-sponsored by Eastie Senator Anthony Petruccelli, local environmental activists are leaving nothing to chance and are continuing to keep the issue at the forefront of their agenda.

Petruccelli, along with Chelsea Senator Sal DiDomenico, became the first elected officials to file any significant legislation to slow Global’s plan to begin shipping ethanol on from upstate New York via train through densely populated areas in Everett, Chelsea and Revere. Petruccelli and DiDomenico added an amendment to a state transportation bond bill that would prohibit the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from issuing Global a Chapter 91 license to build the ethanol storage facility on the Eastie/Revere line until a comprehensive safety study is completed.

The measure was passed during the last legislative session with help from Representative Carlo Basile in the House.

In the past few weeks, residents gathered hundreds of postcards asking that the Department of Transportation study consider environmental justice, the economic capacity of each municipality to respond to a train derailment and explosion, and to ask that the Department of Transportation form an advisory committee to complete the study including residents from Eastie, Chelsea, Revere, Everett, and Cambridge.

At the last meeting in Chelsea on the issue, elected officials said the legislature has a strong team working up at the State House and the ethanol issue is second to none.

What has concerned legislators like Petruccelli is that in some cases these ethanol trains would haul the highly flammable material into the area and pass some 15 to 20 feet from homes, schools and parks.

The study activists are lobbying for would include safety and environmental impacts along the proposed train route and subsequent storage facility. This would include the proximity to homes, nursing homes, schools and day cares along the train route as well as studying the proximity between residential areas and the proposed ethanol storage facility.

Activists pointed out that during a recent City of Boston hearing on the issue, the Boston Fire Department stated that a special foam being handled by a specially trained firefighting force is the only way to put out a ethanol fire. However, the BFD did not elaborate if they currently have the capability of fighting an ethanol fire.

A map of Eastie, Chelsea, Everett and Revere showed just how many people would have to be evacuated in order to contain an ethanol fire. If a train derailed in Chelsea mostly all of Chelsea would have to be evacuated with parts of Eastie, Everett and Revere suffering impacts that would force thousands from their homes.

Again, activists pointed to incidents in Rockford, Illinois and rural Ohio as examples of how ethanol trains, or ‘bomb trains’ as they’ve been dubbed by opponents, wreaked havoc in largely unpopulated areas. The activists wondered what would happen in more densely populated areas and the type of devastation that would ensue if a train derailed here.

In 2009 an Ethanol train derailed and exploded in Rockford, Illinois. The accident killed one and hurt nine others in the rural town. It took 24-hours for the fire to be contained forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people from their homes.

While most Ethanol trains do operate without incident every day around the U.S., on some occasions trains have had accidents in which the Ethanol product has exploded in a chain reaction, causing great fires.

Most of those explosions have happened in remote, rural areas because Ethanol isn’t typically transported through dense, residential urban neighborhoods.

Global’s plan, however, would call for ethanol trains traversing through residential areas on the commuter rail tracks in 25 cities and towns, including Eastie, Revere and Chelsea.

The trains would come down the commuter rail line from Ayer/Ft. Devins during the night hours when the commuter trains are not running. It would pass through the western suburbs and into Boston, where it would then transfer onto the Chelsea line and end up on the Eastie/Revere line, backing into the Global Oil terminal.

No one is exactly sure what the plan is for bringing in such large quantities of the product. Many companies do ship ethanol into the area by truck and by sea barge, but Global’s plan, by far, exceeds any quantities now coming in.

Each train would carry around 1.8 million gallons of Ethanol and there are expected to be at least two trains per week. Each tank car on the train holds 30,000 gallons.

Some believe Global will be using the Ethanol to blend much larger quantities of gasoline in order to supply a recent acquisition of hundreds of Exxon Mobile gas stations throughout New England.

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