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Morelle calls for reversal of rule allowing natural gas ‘bomb trains’


Rep. Joe Morelle is calling on a federal agency to reverse a new rule that allows railroad tankers carrying liquefied natural gas to roll through Monroe County.

The rule went into effect on Aug. 24, though it faces several legal challenges. It allows trains to carry up to 100 tankers of liquefied gas on American railroads, as long as the gas is stored in a specifically-designed tanker whose safety as a container for the gas has been largely untested.

“This dangerous gas would pass directly through my district in Upstate New York’s Monroe County, and pose a threat to the citizens living there as well as the environment and our first responders,” Morelle wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Roger Batory, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
Morelle's letter to federal officials Natural gas is extremely flammable but it is not explosive in its liquid state. If natural gas tankers were to derail and be punctured, however, the liquid could spill out and evaporate rapidly. Should the vapors be ignited, the results would be devastating. Experts have theorized that a derailment could destroy a large swath of a city or its suburbs.

Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Association of State Fire Marshals have objected to the new regulation.

During an interview Wednesday, Morelle said he’s troubled that the NTSB’s concerns went unheeded. He added that if the current administration doesn’t act, he’ll ask the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, which would have a new transportation secretary and Federal Railroad Administration head, to do so.

“Since we’re in the middle of a transition and it’s not at all clear that the DOT under President-elect Biden will feel the same way, from my perspective we need to just halt on this, put the brakes on it,” Morelle said.

Morelle said his letter was prompted by a story about the new federal rule and the potential for liquefied natural gas trains to roll through Monroe County that was published in the November edition of CITY.
A CSX spokesperson told CITY that the company’s two main rail lines in Rochester aren’t currently being used to transport liquefied natural gas but that the company is “currently evaluating the potential market opportunity of the new rule.”

The CSX line that bisects Monroe County and passes through the city of Rochester is already used to transport crude oil and liquefied propane. That same line crosses gas producing regions of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania before cutting through Monroe County and continuing east to Albany, which is connected by other rail lines to major New England markets, where utilities and other large customers have complained of pipeline bottlenecks.

Rochester Fire Department officials have said they’ve been warned that trains carrying LNG are coming to the area.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].