BERGENFIELD, N.J. — Local officials gave an earful Monday night in Bergenfield to representatives of CSX Transportation, whose trains carry volatile Bakken crude oil through Bergen County.
The rail company transports the crude from oil fields from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to refineries here in the East.
At issue are worries that an accident as serious as a 2013 74-car freight train derailment in Quebec -- caused Bakken tank cars to explode and killed 42 people.
The forum in the municipal building was called by U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5), who told attendees that he's walked miles along local railroad tracks in Bergen.
“I am concerned about making the transport of substances through our county as safe as they possibly can,” he said.
The natural next step, Garrett said, was to gather representatives of CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the railroad industry, to address local officials and first responders.
“Bakken crude oil is more volatile than non-Bakken crude,” said Les Fiorenzo, an FRA regional administrator. “There is an ongoing debate that is currently under study as to whether or not that’s associated with vapor pressure.
“The state of North Dakota has put a cap on vapor pressure,” he added. “The Department of Transportation is looking at that. It’s all about safety.”
Fiorenzo spoke of using stronger, sturdier tank cars and improving inspections of crude oil routes and infrastructure.
“If an unlikely large incident should occur,” countered Robert Rohauer, the CSX manager of public affairs and community relations, “we know that the nucleus of the area where the derailment occurred is going to be taken care of very well with our resources that are available.”
He also spoke of forming strong partnerships with local first responders, making community awareness planning books available, and providing a Colorado-based training program for first responders in which they can get hands-on training in simulated accidents.
Bergenfield Councilman Charles Steinel accused CSX of not responding to community complaints.
“Your job is to move freight and make money,” he said, “but you’re also in the community.”
Both Rohauer and another CSX representative cited phone lines for the public to bring concerns to the company: 800-232-0144 (emergencies) and 877-835-5279 (non-emergencies).
It didn't reassure officials from Bergenfield, Bogota, Norwood, Teaneck and elsewhere.
Norwood Mayor Jim Barsa cited a malfunctioning railroad crossing in his town where a freight train crashed into a stalled minivan in February.
“We were told we’d have a permanent fix by the end of May,” Barsa said. “We need to get this crossing fixed before school begins.”
Air pollution from idling train cars was another concern, as was security and the alleged failure of CSX to cut grass along the Bergenfield tracks.
Teaneck Deputy Mayor Henry Pruitt spoke of trains with Bakken cars parked on a third track "as far as the eye can see."
“The product is a volatile substance” he said. “It’s parked in my town -- with all the crazies across America.”
Blocked from the meeting were two dozen or so protesters representing various environmental groups, including the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains. They were first blocked at the door to the building and then at the entranceway to the council chambers, where they chanted, “Let the public in! Let the public in!”
Garrett spoke with them in the hallway.
Coalition member Jan Barry of Teaneck said he was concerned that the state Open Public Meetings Act had been violated.
“One definition of an open public meeting is that, when any level of government officials get together and discuss public business, it’s a public meeting,” Barry said.
“Scott Garrett has manipulated public officials into breaking the Open Public Meetings Act in New Jersey,” he added.
Garrett urged those in the meeting to call his office if they don't get satisfaction in their dealings with CSX.