July 24, 2013

Rail cars parked on siding leave some Mainers uneasy

The practice is common in South Portland, Scarborough and Yarmouth, but officials say it's safe and response crews are well-trained.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Karen Antonacci kantonacci@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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A car passes over the bridge near a line of Petroleum Crude Oil transport rail cars as they sit near Route 115 in Yarmouth on Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Bill Vinson is concerned about the frequency that tanker cars are being parked on a railroad siding next to his property in Scarborough. Vinson is photographed Monday, July 22, 2013 atop a berm between his backyard, at left, and the railroad tracks and siding.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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"Unfortunately, it's kind of evolved into (Pan Am) using the siding as a parking lot for trains that are coming or going from the Rigby rail yard in South Portland," Vinson said.

The freight cars carry a variety of dry and liquid cargo, including crude oil and other petroleum products.

Town Manager Tom Hall said he hears more complaints about train whistles than about the risk of accidents, but he recognizes why some residents are concerned about the practice of storing cars on the siding.

"I think what's maddening to the residents is there's a full Rigby Yard four or five miles down the track. There may be a more appropriate place for them to store their cars," he said.

Railroad and state officials say the practice of temporarily storing cars on sidings is both common and safe.

Neither the state nor local municipalities have oversight of the tracks, which are regulated by federal authorities. The tracks are inspected regularly by federal officials and at least weekly by Pan Am Railways, according to a company official.

Nate Moulton, director of the industrial rail access program for the state Department of Transportation, has met with Scarborough residents and town officials to discuss concerns about the siding near Highland Avenue and to act as a liaison to the railway company. "If cars are left there for storage, that's common on any siding," Moulton said.

Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, said the rail company avoids storing train cars on the siding for more than a day or two at a time, and that the trains are secured and not left idling. "We've tried to alleviate as much nuisance as we can," she said.

Scarborough officials, meanwhile, say they are prepared to respond to train-related emergencies, although there have been no incidents in recent memory.

Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said his department regularly trains for railroad emergencies so first responders can become more familiar with trains and related equipment. Scarborough also is part of the Presumpscot Valley Haz-Mat Team, along with Gorham, Westbrook, Standish, Windham and Gray.

"We all have hazardous materials in our community and we all have transportation routes we need to deal with," Thurlow said, noting the derailment in Canada has "everybody's awareness piqued" about the potential for a tragic train accident. "These types of incidents are very rare and we hope to never deal with one locally."

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Karen Atonacci can be contacted at 791-6377 or at:

kantonacci@mainetoday.com

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