WILLSBORO — A time bomb has been set in the North Country. But instead of ticking, it’s set to the steady click-clack of the railroad track.
Last month, a series of fast-moving developments moved to address the rapid increase in crude oil transport by rail through the region.
Canada issued strict new requirements that immediately ordered 5,000 of the antiquated DOT-111 tank cars that are prone to accidents off the tracks and called for more stringent emergency response plans and speed limits, among other requirements.
New York State sent the federal government their comprehensive crude oil transportation report, which was recently completed in accordance with an executive order issued by Governor Cuomo in January and may weigh into their imposition of similar standards once the Department of Transportation chimes in.
And moments after news broke of the explosion and derailment that sent three tankers of crude into the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia on Wednesday, April 30, the state announced another round of targeted inspections of rail cars to ensure compliance with safety standards, something that would be darkly humorous if the stakes weren’t so high.
Local officials say its only a matter of time until a similar catastrophe befalls the Lake Champlain corridor that sees some 160,000 cars pass through daily from North Dakota on their way to the Port of Albany for refinement.
As the issue reaches a fever pitch at the state and federal levels, town officials are making progress across several fronts, including delegating authority during potential disaster scenarios, evaluating the environmental impact, boning up on emergency preparation and examining the potential for increased safety measures.
“This is exactly my biggest worry,” said Willsboro Town Supervisor Shaun Gillilland, referring to the accident in Lynchburg. “If we did have an incident, the town is definitely not prepared to handle this.”