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2/6/13 Public Hearing on Ethanol Train Routes

by in Beat Reporter, Development and Zoning, Mystic River, Transportation
Posted on February 6, 2013 at 12:06 am

Ethanol trains carrying large amounts of flammable liquid would pass through Somerville, including right by Brickbottom, East Broadway and Assembly Square. More…

[Note: This is a syndicated post. Read the original at Somerville Development Forum.]

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2 responses to “2/6/13 Public Hearing on Ethanol Train Routes”

  1. Beat Report: 2/6/13 Public Hearing on Ethanol Train Routes

    Bottom Line on Top

    Global Oil wants to start shipping up to 1.8M gallons of ethanol through Somerville 2-3 times per week after midnight on commuter rail lines, such as the Fitchburg line running through Porter Square. Ethanol burns very fast and burns very hot, and requires special foam to extinguish it. Affected municipalities are opposed, and the legislature passed a law requiring a study of the issue, mentioning the towns surrounding Somerville but, oddly, not Somerville. Federal railroad law overrides state and local law, so opposition must be directed to the Federal Railroad Administration.

    Rough Notes

    At East Boston High School.

    Member of tech advisory group spoke. Starting at 6PM with Chelsea Creek Action Group meeting. MassDOT to come 6:30PM.

    Global Oil has facility near Albany NY, shipped from Midwest.

    Current proposal: 2-3 times per week, after midnight, on commuter rail lines, mile-long trains with 1.8 M gallons of ethanol.

    One derailment in Columbus OH, evacuated 1 mi radius, 100 families evacuated. Would like to go along Lowell line, through Porter Square. Are other alternatives via Malden or north side of Somerville. Could require entire population of Chelsea be evacuated.

    Ethanol burns very hot and fast. Hard to fight an ethanol fire. Need special foams. Burns smokeless, almost invisible flames.

    Homeland Security sees ethanol transport as soft target. At least 5 derailments in last 2 years, one caused by sabotage.

    Global oil has had 57 spills, 50K gallons in Chelsea Creek and surrounds.

    Doesn’t belong in urban area. Chelsea has salt piles, 123 M gallons petroleum, 1005 Logan’s jet fuel, 70-80% of heating oil. This affects our health and safety.

    MassDOT sponsored a Public Safety Study, mandated by Legislature. No MEPA permit until study completed. Make your concerns heard.

    MassDOT person: Asking for translators from UMass Translation Center. Not here yet. Will be covered by local translators.

    At least 4 representatives from State Reps offices.


    Bond bill legislation, global oil proposal, designated port areas and Ch. 91. Bill includes Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, and Revere; added Somerville because all the lines go thru Somerville. Due Feb. 9. MassDOT planning to request 45-day extension of report due date.

    Global oil already gets ethanol by barge. Wants to get it by train. Needs to expand and upgrade railroad sidings, build in filled tidelands (Ch. 91) and in Chelsea Creek designated port area.

    Most gas contains 10% ethanol. E85 fuel has 85% ethanol. Lot of facilities in corn country (Ohio). Mostly transported by rail (CSX lines). Coming into MA by rail already. Most ethanol goes to Global facility by barge, first rail to Worcester, than to marine terminal in Providence, then thru the canal to Global Oil.

    Proposal is to continue by rail on CSX tracks via Framingham/Worcester freight line, or on Grand Junction, to Boston Engine Terminal area, thru Chelsea and Revere, back into Global Oil facility. All MBTA and MassDOT rails. These already have freight service on them. More direct route is Fitchburg line, Pan Am railroad (through Porter Sq.). Could also do Haverhill or Lowell line. All near Boston Engine Terminal in Somerville.

    Freight railroads have operating easements for freight transport. Pan Am over Boston & Maine, CSX over Grand Junction.

    Federal Surface Transportation Board regulations override state laws and local zoning and permitting laws. Would be interfering with interstate commerce. Federal Railroad Administration regulations govern safety. Hazardous Materials Safety Admin. Title 49 CFR 174, Carriage of Hazardous Materials by Rail. Ethanol is class 3 hazardous material.

    Did analysis of Ethanol derailments nationwide. 31 hazmat incidents 2008-2012. 21 ETHANOL RELATED. Track maintenance, communication, train speed, DOT-111 railcar design caused accidents. One caused fatality, two caused personal injury. In MA were two incidents with fatalities. Railroad property averaged $840K. 1% of train incidents released material.

    In MA, 106 incidents 2008 to 2012. 9 collisions, 53 derailings, 44 others. 60 on main lines, 46 in sidings, 45 passenger trains, 31 freights.

    One incident had two fatalities, 6 had personal injury. No evacuations.

    Exposed populations. Maps.

    Q: How many residences abut tracks?

    A: Hundreds of thousands of residences.

    Q: You’ve been in dense areas? Homes 15 feet from trains?

    A: Used GIS systems and census data. No field investigations to count population.

    Global safety & security procedures.

    Camera surveillance, recorded inspection rounds, minimum number at facility, gated facility with restricted ad=access, security drills and training, TSA credentials, unannounced security inspections by Coast Guard, contracts for spill response. Are these adequate?

    Emergency response capabilities: six city fire departments. Fire apparatus needs alcohol resistant foam. Need adequate supply

    Regional emergency response: METROFIRE, mutual aid between cities.

    Dept. of Fire services: area is in Hazmat District 2. DEP provides training and resources for cleanup.

    Issues with emergency responders: limited available of alcohol resistant foam, lack of training, difficult access to rail corridors. Few at-grade crossings. Global Oil requires federal approvals. No requirement for state approval (it’s forbidden). Final report will review risks, exposed population, existing policies, and existing emergency response capabilities.


    web site:

    Q: East Boston, Bennington. Nothing about ethanol as mixed with gasoline. Has video. $50B spent to preserve fuel reserves in Middle East. Ethanol is not safe. Corn fertilizer goes into Mississippi. Louisiana has 150 miles of refineries, called Cancer Alley. Not burning biodiesel.

    Ellin: Somerville. No mention of safety of trains going through this dense a community.

    .Q: Is it true that flash point is 55 deg. F.? What is E85?

    A: 10% ethanol is typical. Also is E85, 85% ethanol. (Flex fuel).

    Q: Worcester to Providence, is there a cost benefit analysis for doing that route?

    A: Don’t know why Global wants to use rail. Assume it is cheaper.

    Q: Haven’t mentioned Homeland Security. What jurisdiction do they have?

    A: Railroad safety by Fed RR Admin. We have invited Homeland Security to our meetings.

    Q: On trains up through Revere, will you upgrade the rails, or use existing rails? This is an old section.

    A: We don’t approve transport of ethanol by rail. Railroad infrastructure must be suitable for hazardous material. Eastern route (Newburyport/Rockport) is in very good condition. Carries lots of passenger trains at high speeds. East Boston line off that into East Boston will require improvements. No trains operate on it currently. Pan Am railways has to

    Q: (Spanish speaker) : I don’t approve that they get the Global Oil license. They have not dealt with existing pollution from lines coming in this direction. Even more dangerous than people crossing the boarders. H.S. doesn’t see this as advantageous to terrorists. So no one is looking at this seriously.

    A: We’ve been in touch with state. Not in touch with Homeland Security. Many trains throughout country that contain hazardous materials. HS has jurisdiction over security and safety.

    Q; from Maverick. Caused by improper track inspections, bad communication and timing issues because sharing lines. Don’t see how it’s possible.

    A: These lines are MBTA commuter rail lines inspected frequently with high safety standards that carry tens of trains every day, thousands of passengers.

    Q: Derailment involving alcohol is scary.

    A: We can’t.

    Q: You work for MA. Was Global invited?

    A: They have been coming to our advisory committees.

    Q: Is LNG more dangerous than ethanol?

    A: Don’t know.

    Q: Not enough foam in MA to put out fire. Have sloppy businesses. Can’t trust sloppy businesses.

    Me: Why 1/2 mile instead of 1 mi? Estimate of damage from 1 car of 60? All lines of 60? Passing hazardous material thru Assembly Sq. will impact economic development there.

    Q: Retired conductor. Don’t go over Grand Junction. People would go around the gates. Have to dump air. What else will be on train that could cause accidents? Trains flip over going 5 mi/hr.? Bad idea in E. Boston.

    Q: How fast would something ignite? Second? Minute? How could one evacuate 1 miles of people?

    Q: What does the findings mean to us?

    A: Will identify populations and land uses that are exposed to tracks. What is rail safety history here and across country regarding ethanol. No good information on consequences of ethanol incidents yet. Nor on response plans and gaps that need to be addressed.

    Q: Will you have evac plan?

    A: No. We will rely on municipalities to work with Global Oil.

    Q: Global Oil hasn’t been responsive to neighborhoods in the past. We’re all opposed to this, but you say Fed Gov. overrides us. What’s the point of study?

    A: Regulatory protections at Federal level. It is illegal for states and cities to regulate railroad ops.

    Also, DEP has set up evac procedures.

    Q: I live within 1/4 mi of Chelsea tank. Aren’t any. Was leak in tank all over Suffolk Downs.

    Q: Ask municipalities to get enough foam for 60 car fire. Who would pay? Global Oil? Could be billions. Plus evac training.

    A:Answer in Chelsea was no evac. Hunker down, don’t breathe.

    Q: East Boston. Jet fuel stored here. If there is an ethanol fire there, will there be a jet fuel explosion?

    A; We have identified these issues.

    Q: Are there regulations separating ethanol from jet fuel?

    A: I’ve seen line behind that building with tanks. Will MA pay for all this?

    Q: East Boston. Not been answering questions. Gather ethanol is dangerous, cities not prepared. Haven’t talked about safety. Unclear on why we’re having this meeting. Will you give us guidelines?

    A: What we’re trying to do is identify exposure in cities.

    Q: We can see the trains. We are the ones being exposed. IS this just info? Or can we stop this?
    What’s your role?

    A: They’re not global oil. They’re trying to help us. Legislature sponsored this study to try to help us?

    A: We’re providing info on history of ethanol incidents and rail incidents to identify affected populations. What are emergency response issues that Global must address with cities and state

    Q: You want to stop this?

    A: Ethanol is class 3 hazardous material. There are high safety standards to railroad and terminal. Regulations are at federal level. Is against federal law for cities and states to regulate.

    The only thing that is holding this up is the Legislation that required study. Conservation Commission happened to notice. We have to go up the chain.

    Q: Railroad Safety Commission will have to deal with safety issue. If they can’t find a city with enough foam, they can’t do this.

    A: Ethanol is already being transported.

    Q: What was population density around incidents? Scale it up to our population density. Also talk about costs of transporting final product by truck.

    A: We can only do what we can do. Use of trains does not affect use of trucks. Issue in legislation is transport of ethanol.

    Q: Have you looked at the population density?

    A: We can take a look at where incidents occurred. We are looking at that.

    Q: Have you talked to other states about evac plans and safety plans? It’s shipped all over country, they had to do something. Need due diligence.

    A: We have been researching plans like that.

    Q: Have other businesses around (LNG tankers, Exxon Mobile) expressed concerns with this project?

    A: we’re looking into that?

    Q: We need to map existing gas and chemical tanks near the tracks. Should do consequence modeling? In Somerville, in East Boston, in Chelsea.

    Q: Is there a facility that now takes 60 tank cars of ethanol in MA?

    A: Come through MA into Worcester on CSX line. Go down to Providence.

    Q: Could a group of people tour facility and ask questions?

    A: I can look into that.

    Q: You’re OK, doing a good job. You aren’t Global. Global will push out the others. Sunoco parks trucks in Global. Need 6 Minutes.

    Q: Ask fire chief of Worchester how much foam he has.

    A: We can do that.

    Q: Ask for cost of foam to put out 60 car fire.

    A: We’ll look it.

    Q: Why can’t we put it on barges in Albany and go along Hudson? It’s cheaper than rail. Might want to do an alternatives analysis. In CA they do air toxic studies of rail facilities. States can regulate consequences of railroads. Not just states and cities are responsible for civil rights and environmental justice analyses. Who in the Fed government have done these analyses?

    A: There is not a Federal permit at issue.

    Q: They have an obligation under those laws and regulations to comply with environmental justice regulations.

    When you have sound, it has health consequences. Increases blood pressure. Number one health issue.

    Last year, diesel was classed a class 1 hazardous chemical. There will be more trucks. Ch. 91 opens up MEPA process. Why isn’t it happening here?

    Don’t know about boards of health. It isn’t reasonable to ask local FD to pay for evac plans. How many fires have been actually put out? Or do they just let them burn?

    Concerned about a runaway fire that leaps from building to building.

    Have a lot of construction on GLX. Years of GLX at node where all these trains will go thru? They won’t be available a lot for years.

    3-5 years to restore E-Boston part of line.

    Look into environmental justice issues. Federal agencies.

    Ethanol committee, Tues. Feb. 19 6 PM

    Me: Look at effect of grades on propagation of fire in the neighborhoods.

    Q: What about other municipalities dealing with this?

    Q: Can you send a copy to the other 50 cities along the lines?

    A: Can notify them.

    Q: Is Global obligated to participate in this?

    A: Global has provided us with information we’re requested. they’ve attended advisory group meetings. Not here tonight. Have been engaged.

    Q: Before Boston City Council, Global’s response was “we don’t have to do anything because we’re in Revere”. Were they obligated to give you info?

    A: Don’t think they are. Aren’t’ sharing all info due to business and security issues?

    Q: Is Global’s’ safety record public knowledge?

    A: Don’t know.

    Q: Big fire in Revere went down into the sewers and up into people’s houses.

    Last Q: If everything goes there way, when will they start operations? We wanted to make a rail trail there. they wouldn’t allow it.

    Q: Security issues. Kids have gotten in their facilities. Kayakers on creek can get in there too. Not necessarily secure.

    Wig: Where there is graffitti, there is no security.

    Q: What’s max size?

    A: 60 cars.

    Q: Would you fill it with empty cars? even an empty car is dangerous. I’ve seen East Boston line nails dated in 1922.

    Q: railroad not interested in side tracks, not side branches.

    Q: thank you for coming. Came in late.

    Q: Biggest concern about ethanol is education. Science museum closed exhibit about alternatives. What’s happening here? We see this stuff in Europe, not see it here.

    A: Thank you. Presentation will be put on web site and also meeting notes.

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  2. Joe Lynch says:

    David, thanks for this post. As you may know, I’ve been working through our state delegation and others to eliminate all freight along the Lowell line in Somerville. I hope to accomplish this goal in conjunction with the advent of the Green Line, rapid transit stops on that line. I would like them to stop tomorrow, but due to the ongoing commitments the track operators have with the freight carriers(including the MBTA)that is not realistic.

    I would ask anyone concerned with freight train travel in this heavily populated city, to support the ban of this highly dangerous substance through our city.(by rail or road)

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