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NOTA president: Oil trains pose threat


This story has been corrected.

Oil trains have the potential to blow a hole through the resurgence taking place in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts, says NOTA's president, Evan Lowenstein. And he wants them to slow down.

Most trains carrying crude oil do so without incident. But when an accident occurs, it can be a showstopper. A 2013 derailment and subsequent explosion in Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and destroyed much of the community's downtown, for example.

Monroe County is on a major CSX line, and the tracks run right behind Village Gate in NOTA. A significant amount of crude oil passes through the county by rail on any given day.

Federal regulations limit oil trains to 40 mph in heavily populated urban areas. But by definition, in New York State, that includes only New York City and Buffalo.

"It's basically saying just because a neighborhood's less dense, those people count less," Lowenstein says. "If a train derails, it doesn't matter if there's 20 people per square mile or 15. It's still going to be a problem."

And the NOTA tracks aren't far from the Public Market, which draws thousands of people on the weekends, he says.

Lowenstein says he's made multiple attempts to contact the Federal Railroad Administration, but the agency hasn't responded.

"It doesn't sit well with us, because they set this policy and we're the ones that are sitting feet away from the tracks," he says. "At the very minimum, they should be calling us back to educate us and discuss options."

Lowenstein has been contacted by US Senator Chuck Schumer's office. Schumer wants the trains to follow a lower speed limit in more areas of the state, says a Schumer representative.

But critics say that the speed limit makes little difference; speed hasn't been a major factor in accidents, and lowering the limit would only further congest an already stressed rail system, they say.