Newhard supports proposed legislation

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    WARWICK-U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants to improve rail and train safety on the nation's railroads, and Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard is in Schumer's corner on this one. Newhard recently wrote to Schumer supporting New York's senior senator's proposed legislation that would "re-write the book" on regulating the freight rail industry. "Train lines are going up the Hudson River but they go through our village," Newhard said. "They bisect our village and we are a destination for chlorine gas at Jones Chemical. These things are federal issues." Schumer's legislation comes on the heels of a train accident in Graniteville, S.C., last month when a chemical spill caused nine deaths and 250 injuries. It occurred when a manual track switch was left in the wrong position after a train carrying chlorine, cresol and sodium hydroxide was pulled to a side rail. Another train that was supposed to stay on the main line crashed into the first train, causing the chlorine gas leak. "The Federal Railroad Administration is not looking out for the people in Orange County — it is concerned with protecting big railroad companies," Schumer said in a letter to municipalities. "The federal government is quite literally falling asleep at the switch when it comes to protecting us from deadly chemicals that are being transported through thousands of backyards every day." That would include Warwick. Newhard said the federal government has not come up with safety regulations for chemical plants. But he sees that changing. "(Town Supervisor) Michael Sweeton and I have talked about this. We've talked about things happening on a national level," Newhard said. "There is a lot of activity, lots of conversation regarding this." In Newhard's letter, he said there has been a heightened awareness of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, especially surrounding Jones Chemical. "The Village of Warwick, Town of Warwick and Jones Chemical have worked on the many security issues that face our community," Newhard wrote. "One result is the creation of a Citizens Advisory Panel as liaison to Jones Chemical. Another is adequate fencing and 24-hour security. We are still waiting for new federal guidelines on chemical plant security." Schumer proposes several changes to laws concerning toxic freight and the rail system, including increasing the maximum fine, now at $11,000; doubling the number of train inspectors to 800; and automating all train switches (now at 40 percent). "The vulnerability of freight trains carrying toxic cargo to this destination point, as well as through this densely populated village of 6,000-plus residents is frightening," Newhard said in his letter. "What are the regulatory requirements on track safety? Why aren't villages, towns, cities notified as to what and when hazardous materials are being brought through their communities? We all have the capabilities of notification via computers with incredible immediacy. "Why is there a ‘disconnect' here?"