- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The operators of trains carrying Bakken crude or other hazardous chemicals would have to submit contingency plans for disasters under a bill that a New Jersey state Senate panel advanced Monday.

The Senate’s transportation committee moved forward three bills seeking to regulate the trains carrying the highly volatile crude across the state.

The sponsor, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck, said the state needs to step in because the federal government is not doing enough to ensure communities’ safety in a time when trains have been carrying the crude from North Dakota to refineries on the east and west coasts, including two in New Jersey.

Weinberg called the measures “some step forward to anticipate what could happen and hopefully to make it less troublesome, less dangerous to the residents we all represent.”

New Jersey officials have not made public how many trains are carrying the crude in New Jersey, though it’s taken to refineries in Paulsboro in Gloucester County and Linden in Union County and is transported on tracks throughout several counties.

There have been leaks and explosions elsewhere in North America as the trains have increased in frequency over the last few years. One in Canada in 2013 killed 47 people. None of the mishaps have happened in densely populated places where the danger of mass casualties is greater.

Under one bill, which was also advanced this month in the Assembly, train operators would be required to submit to local emergency planning authorities details about the chemicals on the trains and proof that they could pay for cleanup in the case of a mishap.

A second bill would require the owners of rail bridges to submit inspection reports to the state Transportation Department. It has not been introduced in the Assembly.

Weinberg said that measure came out of the discovery that the crude is traveling on an 86-year-old bridge over the Oradell Reservoir, which provides drinking water in Bergen County - and that the bridge is due for major work.

Environmental groups supported the measures. Some industry groups opposed them, but representatives from them did not address the committee on Monday. A lobbyist for the railroad CSX submitted a written statement saying that the bridge issues are already regulated by the federal government.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, a Republican from Montville, supported the legislation but said he wanted to see changes so that the information about train cargo and schedules made available to officials would not be available to the general public out of fears that terrorists would also access it.

“If they know exactly when it’s going to be going over the Oradell Bridge,” he said, “they’ll be waiting for it.”

Weinberg said that it’s easy now to figure out which trains are carrying Bakken crude. But she said she would look into changing the bill to restrict that information.

The committee also advanced a resolution that would encourage Congress to limit to make stronger train regulations.

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