Mass., Conn. Officials Prepared Should Train Crash Occur

In the wake of the horrific freight train crash in Quebec last week, emergency officials in New England say they are prepared for a similar incident. 

The freight train which caused the fiery crash near the Quebec/Maine border was carrying crude oil. In the U-S., rail transport of the product has increased 24 times over 2008 levels.  That dramatic rise is due in part to oil production through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Some crude is brought through parts of New England including western Massachusetts. 

“Main line tracks around here are inspected twice a week by qualified railroad inspectors of the various companies that operate them.” 

Tony Jewell is a Western Massachusetts-based railroad safety consultant. He says railways are safer than they were decades ago. 

“All this activity is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration: What the qualifications of the inspectors are, how many inspections a week they’re supposed to be doing, the type of records they have.” 

And the numbers back it up. According to federal data, there have been no instances of hazardous materials being released from trains involved in accidents in either Massachusetts or Connecticut in at least the last two years. 
 
Still, emergency response officials say they are ready should a hazmat situation take place. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency says it  has a plan  which can be used for a variety of emergencies, including a train crash. In Connecticut, the State Police have a team dedicated to mass transit which would respond to incidents such as the one in Quebec. Sergeant Steve Ostroski heads the unit. 
All these entities that we work with on a daily basis would come together and we actually practice our communication, our logistics and our planning in the event something like that would actually occur in the State of Connecticut. 
 
A spokesperson with Pan-Am Railways, which transports crude oil on rails in Western Massachusetts, says its staff regularly meets with state and local officials to develop safety plans.