US Senate News:
Source: United States Senator for New York Charles E Schumer
Despite Blue Point Rail Bridge Reopening, Bridge That Supports Thousands Of Gallons Of Hazardous Cargo Each Week Could Still Potentially Pose Safety and Environmental Risks As Locals Question Bridge Integrity
After Local Officials And Advocates Sounded The Alarm, Schumer Urges Immediate Safety Inspection Of Blue Point Railroad Bridge To Ensure Public Health And Environmental Safety & Security To Give Hudson Valley Residents Peace Of Mind
Schumer To Feds: Safety And Environmental Risks Are A Bridge Too Far In The Hudson Valley
Citing concerns about the safety of the CSX Rail Bridge located just south of Blue Point between Highland and Milton in Ulster County, New York, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct an independent safety inspection of the Blue Point Railroad Bridge located on the CSX freight line.
The bridge – which was temporarily reinforced last year and is being actively monitored by CSX – is still jury-rigged and has local residents and stakeholders concerned about the potential safety and environmental concerns it poses. Schumer noted that a spill or derailment along the freight line could have disastrous public health, environmental, and safety implications for the Hudson Valley region.
“A jury-rigged bridge is hardly a long-term solution to securing the safety of the CSX freight rail at the Blue Point Railroad Bridge,” said Senator Schumer. “Ulster County and the surrounding communities are on board for an independent safety review from the feds, which should grease the skids in the interest of the health and safety of the entire region and bring peace of mind to Hudson Valley residents on both sides of the Hudson.”
John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper Vice President and Patrol Boat Captain, said: “For reasons that Senator Schumer has identified, Riverkeeper continues to be extremely concerned about the structural integrity of this failing rail bridge. Is it still strong enough to support the mile-long freight trains it carries daily? Has the margin of safety been lost? And are the repeated vibrations and shocks of daily train traffic continuing to weaken the bridge and compromise even the temporary repairs? For months, Riverkeeper has called for an immediate and independent inspection. Now, with this request from Senator Schumer, we have hope that an immediate inspection will result. Waiting for a repair next year is only acceptable if the bridge is determined to have 100 percent structural integrity in the interim.”
“The Hudson River is a precious commodity that we need to protect at all costs, which is why I support Senator Schumer’s call for an immediate inspection of the Blue Point Rail Bridge between Milton and Highland. For generations, thousands of Ulster County residents have relied on the Hudson River for drinking water and these communities deserve the peace of mind of knowing that this bridge is safe. I thank Senator Schumer for calling on the FRA to immediately conduct an independent safety review because a derailment would be disastrous,” said Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan.
This specific CSX line is no stranger to terrifying incidents. In March 2017, a CSX freight train derailed in the City of Newburgh while transporting hazardous chemical materials including sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide. Schumer explained that CSX freight trains carry a variety of different products, including petroleum and liquid chemicals, meaning if a train containing hazardous materials were to derail as a result of an unsafe bridge, the safety of the entire Hudson Valley region could be compromised. During the March 2017 incident, Schumer said that 4,600 gallons of diesel fuel were spilled in close proximity to the Hudson River and four people were injured. Schumer explained that this situation could have been disastrous had any of the hazardous chemical materials spilled out of the railcars. Pointing to the deteriorating condition of the Blue Point Rail Bridge, Schumer said action must be taken now by the FRA.
Importantly, Schumer also noted that the threat is especially heightened because of the Blue Point Bridge’s proximity to Hudson River drinking water intakes, which serve over 106,000 residents in seven Hudson Valley communities in Ulster and Dutchess counties, including the Town of Esopus, Town of Hyde Park, Town of Lloyd, Town and City of Poughkeepsie, and the Town and Village of Rhinebeck. These communities, known as the ‘Hudson 7,’ have formed an inter-municipal council to represent the seven municipalities that draw drinking water from the Hudson River and have voiced grave concerns regarding the safety of the Blue Point Rail Bridge.
“The Counties and seven municipalities that are part of the Hudson 7 have expressed concern that a bridge failure could lead to hazardous chemical and oil spills and contamination of the Hudson River impacting our drinking water supply. These seven municipalities in Dutchess and Ulster Counties provide drinking water to 106,000 residents, hospitals, colleges, and major regional employers. Hudson 7 supports and thanks Senator Schumer for his request to have the bridge immediately inspected and repaired to 100% integrity to ensure safe use as soon as possible and avoid contaminating spills to the Hudson River,” said Mayor Gary Bassett of the Village of Rhinebeck and Chairman of the Hudson 7.
Schumer has been a tireless advocate for making improvements to rail safety across the Hudson Valley. In 2018, Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to reverse course and leave-in-place the rule created by a provision Congress passed in the Fixing America’s Surface Transport Act of 2015 that required freight carriers to equip high hazard flammable unit trains carrying crude oil or hazardous materials with Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes by 2023.
Schumer led the charge against dangerous oil-by-rail cars including DOT-111s and successfully fought for the full implementation of lifesaving Positive Train Control technology. Schumer has been outspoken on the need for railroads to conduct comprehensive sleep apnea screening for their engineers, a frequent cause of derailments, and he’s successfully pushed for the installation of inward facing cameras on a number of rail systems. Schumer’s push calling on CSX to inspect the Blue Point Rail Bridge immediately represents yet another step in his tireless efforts to improve rail safety in the Hudson Valley and across New York State.
Senator Schumer’s letter to FRA appears below:
Dear Acting Administrator Bose:
I write today to urge the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to immediately conduct an independent safety inspection of the CSX Transportation (CSX) Rail Bridge located just south of Blue Point between the residential Ulster County communities of Highland and Milton, New York, and adjacent to the Hudson River.
The Blue Point Railroad Bridge is located on the CSX freight line along the western shoreline of the picturesque Hudson River and was temporarily reinforced last year following well-documented safety concerns. Although the temporary fix was welcome news for local stakeholders, communities, and families, it was not nearly enough to qualm the long-term concerns surrounding the safety, environmental, and logistical concerns regarding the Blue Point bridge. As recently as last month, local officials and environmental advocates have come to me with grave concerns regarding the bridge’s potential safety hazards, as a spill or derailment could result in disastrous health, environmental, and public safety implications for the Hudson Valley region. As you know, CSX freight trains carry a variety of products, including petroleum.
Moreover, in March of 2017, a CSX freight train on the same line carrying hazardous chemical materials including sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide derailed along the Hudson River in the City of Newburgh. During this incident, 4,600 gallons of diesel fuel were spilled in close proximity to the Hudson River and four people were injured. This incident could have been infinitely worse had any of the hazardous chemical materials spilled out of the railcars into the Hudson River. The hazardous nature of the solid and liquid cargo being transported, coupled with the Blue Point Bridge’s proximity to Hudson River drinking water intakes utilized by over 106,000 residents in seven communities in Ulster and Dutchess counties, including the Town of Esopus, Town of Hyde Park, Town of Lloyd, Town and City of Poughkeepsie, and the Town and Village of Rhinebeck, make an immediate and independent safety investigation all the more critical.
While I understand that CSX is actively monitoring the bridge with a permanent fix being scheduled for 2022, an independent investigation must be done immediately for the safety and peace of mind of those living in the Hudson Valley. For these reasons, I urge FRA to immediately have an independent rail bridge engineer inspect the integrity of the bridge and also urge FRA to review all inspection reports submitted by CSX concerning the Blue Point Railroad Bridge as soon as possible.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter and should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact my office.