The following blog was authored by our former intern, Alana Fiero.
I grew up listening to trains roll through my hometown of Voorheesville, New York, but I never knew how dangerous some of those trains really were. After the derailment and explosion that leveled a section of downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, I started to think about what would happen to us should a similar disaster happen here. I mean, think about it – small communities all across New York are facing the constant threat of oil trains, which are rattling by our elementary schools, our parks, senior centers and even low-income housing! That just doesn’t make any sense! So I made a video during my internship with Environmental Advocates of New York about oil trains and the impacts of a potential derailment and explosion on small communities like Voorheesville, to help educate the public and make people understand how small communities are impacted by these trains, and show how the state and federal government need to act.
Just think for a minute about what happened two short years ago in Quebec. The folks who died were going about their daily lives – enjoying time with families, finishing their shift at a restaurant, having a drink with friends, or watching T.V. at home – when their universe was shattered by an out-of-control and highly volatile oil train that derailed and then exploded. Reports described explosions causing a .62 mile blast radius – that’s more than half a mile! That got me thinking about what a blast radius like that would do to my hometown of Voorheesville.
Oil train traffic has increased 4,000 percent in New York during the last 6 years. Without increased oversight or safety measures, these trains are hidden in plain sight. If industry has its way, they will be transporting the heavier and dirtier Canadian tar sands on the rails in New York. That’s why they wanted to build an oil boiling facility at the Port of Albany – so they could heat up heavy tar sands and transfer it to barges. All it takes is one accident to ruin the Hudson River ecosystem and drinking water supplies along the route for decades – these tar sands are virtually impossible to remove once they hit the water and could devastate communities along rail lines.
As you can see in the visual below, the results of an oil train derailment and explosion would have disastrous consequences on Voorheesville. Our local ambulance service, fire department, day care center, elementary school, two parks, multiple businesses and residences, as well as Vly Creek would be destroyed. That’s just unacceptable. It’s as if New York is just waiting with their fingers crossed.
I don’t know about you, but this worries me. I love my hometown, and it’s unacceptable that the federal and state governments are dragging their feet when it comes to regulating these dangerous oil trains. Each side is waiting for the other to act – and derailments and explosions have become so common that it’s only a matter of time before it happens in our back yard. The health and safety of our communities should be government’s number one priority – and it’s just not. It’s plain to see that the deep-pocketed fossil fuel industry is influencing our decision makers. While the federal government has introduced new regulations that are intended to keep the public safe (like retiring outdated oil cars and retrofitting them with modern braking systems), they will actually take years to implement. We just don’t have that kind of time.
As I look around my hometown of Voorheesville and watch my family and friends go about their lives in the midst of oil trains, I am now even more aware of the constant threat we all face every single day. I hope this video will open your eyes, too.