More Questions Than Answers on Ethanol Trains

February 13, 2013
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Last Wednesday night’s MassDOT meeting at East Boston High School left East Boston residents with more questions than answers.

First, at 6 p.m. a coalition of activists from East Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Everett briefed residents on Global Oil’s proposal to bring 1.8 million gallons of ethanol by train twice a week into their facility on the Chelsea Creek.

Then, at 7 p.m. MassDOT’s Ned Cod briefed residents on the state’s comprehensive public safety study of the transportation of ethanol by rail through densely populated communities.

The recently completed study found that since 2008 there have been no fewer than 106 incidents on the train lines that would be used to transport the ethanol to the East Boston/Revere line.

However, there were many unanswered questions in the study—questions residents at last week’s meeting felt should be answered.

There was no talk of how the ethanol would be secured because some feel the trains could become a soft target for terrorist activity given the fact the highly flammable ethanol would be transported through densely populated areas.

The study also did not contain an evacuation plan and Cod said that would be left up to the different municipalities.

“We’d have to rely on cities and towns to work with Global on a plan,” said Cod.

Also, there were questions about who would be responsible for purchasing the foam that would have to be used to put out an ethanol fire as well as the special training of first responders.

During a City of Boston hearing on the issue last year, the Boston Fire Department Commissioner Roderick Fraser testified that a special foam being handled by a specially trained firefighting force is the only way to put out an 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 ethanol trains, or ‘bomb trains’ as opponents have dubbed them, that 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.

“My question is what is our next step and how do we protect the people of East Boston, Revere and Chelsea?” asked City Councilor Sal LaMattina.

LaMattina also accused Global of not being a good neighbor or responsive to the community’s complaints concerning the company’s operations. This accusation was backed up with facts from the Chelsea Creek since 1996 by Global,” said Foltz. “The question here is if we can’t trust Global now to be a good environmental neighbor, how can we trust them in the future with ethanol.”

Cod said the state has extended the public comment period on the study another 45 days. The study can be found at www.mass.gov/massdot/ethanolsafety.

The study was filed legislatively in the state’s transportation bond bill and co-sponsored by Eastie Senator Anthony Petruccelli. The bill was aimed at slowing Global’s plan to begin shipping ethanol from upstate New York via train through densely populated areas in Everett, Chelsea and Revere.

The 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 and public comment period is completed.

However, the federal government and not the state regulate the railroads in Massachusetts so future shipments of ethanol into the area may be inevitable.

“State and municipalities can not regulate the railroad lines,” said Cod.

  • Peter Sandfort

    Why have two trainloads of ethanol per week when you can have 500 to 600 truckloads per week to replace the trains? At the normal blend rate, these 500+ truck loads of ethanol are added to about 6,000 truckloads of gasoline. Perhaps these numbers add some perspective?

  • John

    Why have dangerous trainloads or truckloads when we’re spent millions upon millions of dollars widening the Chelsea Street Bridge and dredging the Chelsea Creek to allow barges to bring product up the Creek? Just like they are doing with the amount of ethanol they currently bring in to the site (which I understand is quite a LOT less than what they’re planning to bring in, which means, at the normal blend rate, many more trucks leaving the site than currently).

    A spill in the harbor or in the Creek is not wanted either but it’s a whole lot better than having it happen in someone’s back yard or right under 93, route 1 or on a commuter rail line. Don’t we already have enough here? Someone else want to help carry this burden? Wellesley? Weston? Newton? Anyone?

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