–CSX would have only eight hours in which to store hazardous materials at its train yard near the Mayfield neighborhood, or face losing state funding, under a budget amendment submitted by Sen. Edd Houck.
Neighborhood residents have complained that CSX keeps rail cars containing hazardous chemicals–such as chlorine, liquid propane and ethanol–sitting for days in a rail yard that abuts the residential area.
“It’s given the people down in the Mayfield area a lot of concern,” Houck, D-Spotsylvania County, said. “It’s a legitimate concern. If I lived there, I’d be concerned.”
But there has been little state or local authorities could do; the storage of the cars containing the chemicals is in keeping with a permit issued to Transflo Terminal Services.
The companies cannot refuse to transport hazardous materials, and the chemicals are being ordered by local companies, which means CSX has to deliver them. Additionally, the tracks and property are private, owned by CSX, not the government.
Houck said federal interstate commerce rules also tie government officials’ hands.
So threatening CSX with the loss of state money was about the only solution he could come up with, Houck said.
His budget amendment says that by this July the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation and CSX must come up with a plan for reducing the amount of time chemicals are stored in rail yards, sidings and other property in Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg.
Leave them there any longer, and CSX risks losing eligibility for $42 million in state funding for projects CSX already has in the six-year plan.
The amendment would have no impact on VRE or other rail companies that use the CSX tracks.
The amendment is not final; it must be accepted into the Senate’s budget, which will be passed by the Senate early next month, and then survive negotiations with the House to end up in the final budget passed by the General Assembly by the end of February. Then that budget must be signed by the governor.
In the meantime, Houck said, negotiations with CSX are ongoing.
Former City Councilman Hashmel Turner, now president of the Mayfield Civic Association, said the legislation will hopefully put an end to multiple-day storage of rail cars containing hazardous materials.
Residents in Mayfield take pictures of the rail cars, and monitor their numbers and content. Turner said community members have noticed an increase in rail car traffic in the yard recently.
“They are staying over the weekend,” Turner said. Rail cars arrive on Thursday night or Friday and sit without moving until Sunday evening or Monday morning, he said.
And while the neighborhood’s concerns began over the ethanol transfer facility in Spotsylvania, Turner said he is worried about other hazardous substances moving through the Fredericksburg rail yard.
“We have chlorine and hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and ammonia hydroxide,” Turner said.
He fears that a hazardous-materials incident could be catastrophic.
“Even one of them is deadly, but when you have a combination of them that could bring such devastation to this region, not only the Mayfield community, which of course would get the first impact, but the city and the surrounding region would also suffer from any kind of serious accident or explosion,” Turner said.
Mayfield resident Shawn Lawrence participated in a door-to-door outreach campaign last fall in Mayfield to distribute emergency preparedness materials, assisted by the Fredericksburg Fire Department and the Mayfield Civic Association.
Lawrence said Houck’s bill establishing an eight-hour limit is “great news.”
“We have tried unsuccessfully to work out an agreement with CSX. This has been going on far longer than it should have, but I’m glad to see Sen. Houck taking the initiative for his constituents to do something about this, because it not only affects the Mayfield area, but it affects virtually all of Planning District 16,” Lawrence said.
An eight-hour limit is reasonable, he said.
“I think that’s plenty of time. Of course, the ideal time would not to be able to store it at all, but in all due honesty, that’s not going to happen. But eight hours is acceptable to me,” Lawrence said.