News10NBC Investigates Train Trouble: Who gets advanced notice of hazardous material? The state, if it asks for it

[anvplayer video=”5164413″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – What do we know about the freight trains that barrel through our neighborhoods every day?

We know no local officials get warnings about what’s in the cars. We just learned the state can find out but they have to ask for it first.

I was with the Fairport village manager and fire chief when a CSX freight train came through the village Wednesday. Most of the cars carried basic, safe cargo. We know that because the diamonds affixed to the cars for hazardous warning labels were empty. But then came two cars that were red flags.

The fire chief noted the number on the warning label and plugged it into his emergency response guidebook.

Brean: “So what was that?”

Chief John Overacker, Fairport Fire Department: “The ERG code for that was 1866 which comes up as a flammable resin.”

There is no advance warning from the train companies about that material.

Brean: “Do you think you ought to get a warning?”

Bryan White, Fairport Village manager: “I think it would be nice to know what’s going through so if there are certain materials coming through on a regular basis it gives us an opportunity to respond in a more appropriate and professional manner.”

The Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Ohio had 20 cars of hazardous material.

“We have discovered that the company was not required to notify the state of Ohio that they were hauling hazardous material,” said said Monica Robb Blasdel, a Ohio state representative.

This week, Rep. Robb Blasdel and other Ohio state representatives filed a resolution asking the federal government to make train companies give advance warning.

“We feel this is a safety concern,” she said. “We should know what materials are being transported through our backyards.”

In an email Wednesday I asked the New York State Department of Homeland Security if it gets notified about hazardous material “prior to the freight trains going through New York State?”
Thursday, Governor Kathy Hochul said she wants train companies to give “advance notice.”
But in 2019, a federal rule was passed saying railroads “must notify” state emergency teams about hazardous material but only “upon their request.”

The bottom line is, the state can find out about hazardous materials on freight trains if it wants to.

So today, I asked the governor and the state emergency response commission how many times since 2019 have they asked for information on hazardous material on freight trains?
The governor’s office just responded with Thursday’s press release: the governor wants “advance notice.”

CSX says it cooperates with state and local emergency management offices to help them be prepared in the event of a derailment.

Local governments can request annual reports on hazardous materials hauled by trains through New York but the information is only for training and by the time they get it, the trains are long gone.

One reason why the information is not made public is security. Hazardous material could be a target for terrorism.