Vermont Railway System official responds to concerns on tankers

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BENNINGTON — A Vermont Railway System official said Monday that the long line of rail tanker cars parked on tracks in North Bennington was placed strategically in response to past wintertime shortages of propane gas in the region.

Vermont Railway Vice President Selden Houghton said the cars, which have sparked concern among residents of the area, are being moved out as needed for commercial propane gas customers and won't be stored there indefinitely. He said the severe winter of three years ago snarled railyards around the region and prevented the timely delivery of propane to dealers.

"A couple of years ago, during a cold winter throughout New England, there were shortages of propane," Houghton said, "so we adapted to our [commercial] customers' needs."

Houghton added that the rail company has complied with federal reporting and other requirements and has been in contact with Bennington area fire and emergency management personnel, including about related training.

The cars also are being monitored, and safety procedures "beyond federal regulations" were put in place by the company, he said.

On Friday, state Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington said he had fielded complaints from neighbors, some of whom live very close to the parked tankers, which are marked as carrying a flammable material, "non-odorized liquid petroleum gas."

Campion said he had reached out to the governor's office for information and assistance and is considering legislation to deal with the situation.

David Bond, a faculty member at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, said in an email to Campion and state officials, "Over the past few years, a train has been parked each winter on the railway that lines the eastern border" between North Bennington and Shaftsbury. "In previous years, this train consisted of limestone slurry tanker cars. This year the train appears to be an oil train."

Bond added that the tanker cars are marked with the hazard sign "1075," indicating an explosive gas. "By my estimation," he said, "there are approximately 80 tanker cars parked on the railway tracks."

Copied on the email were Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn and state Rail and Aviation Bureau Director Daniel Delabruere.

Bond said that in North Bennington and Shaftsbury there are "about 15 residential homes within 1,000 feet of where the tanker train is parked (including five homes within about 100 feet of the tanker train)." He also expressed concern about the impact on wetlands or water resources should there be a spill from a tanker.

Campion said he spoke with Brittney Wilson, secretary of civil and military affairs for Gov. Phil Scott, and that she said she would seek information from Vermont Rail System on what the cars contain and whether they can be moved away from residential neighborhoods.

In a response to Wilson, released Monday by Campion, Houghton outlined the reasons Vermont Rail has stored the tanker cars locally and listed the safety and compliance steps taken.

Campion has said will investigate whether state law could regulate the placement of rail cars in residential areas and require disclosure of any hazardous materials inside.

"I have reached out to legislative counsel about drafting a bill that would let Vermonters know the contents of such tankers and not allow tankers that contain hazardous materials to be parked anywhere near residential areas," he said.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.

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