Law & Justice

Judge: Tanker Trains Can Keep Rolling Through Roxbury

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ROXBURY, NJ -- State Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury today said Morristown & Erie Railway (M&E) can resume pulling butane- and propane-carrying tanker cars through Roxbury but said the railroad must install evacuation plans and other steps to ensure safety.

The railroad company will work with towns officials in Roxbury, Mount Olive and Washington Township to develop an evacuation plan within a one mile radius of where the cars are stored, the judge ruled.

Gas leakages will be monitored by M&E railway police with sensors that will detect any elevation of chemicals in the air, said Larry Ragonese, Morris County’s communications and digital media manager. Any leak will trigger evacuation protocol.

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Ragonese also said that the cars, made in 2014, likely won’t be the cause of any leaks that might occur and that the valving would more likely be the culprit. With that being the case, the northern Pennsylvania-based company Hepaco will respond to any valve leak issues.

The problem that led to the lawsuit was not the storage of the 18 propane and butane cars in the Mount Olive storage area on the M&E line, Ragonese said. All the company had to do “was let the county and towns know in advance what they were doing,” he said. “If they let the county and towns know in advance and notified us, we probably wouldn’t be in court today.”

These types of train cars are stored safely all across the state down the New Jersey Turnpike, but towns have to know they are present to protect their residents, Ragonese said.

“You can never assume something won’t happen, even though the odds are so remote,” he said. “You have to be prepared for it. It’s just not fair for the towns to be sitting there and something would happen, and what would they do? They need to know this.”

M&E will also need to alert Morris County, Mount Olive and anyone else designated for notification any day when the butane and propane tank cars from Gibson Gas are to be moved. They can only be moved during the hours of daylight, according to the decision.

M&E signed a deal with Gibson Gas to store the cars and alerted the county very late in the process, Ragonese said.

“They did not let us know when the whole thing started that they were coming in to store cars with propane,” he said. “We felt that breached the contract with the county. The county owns the line [M&E runs on] and we still believe that they have an obligation to let us know if they were going to contract for something other than just freight hauling.”

The breach of contract component of the case will be heard in a few weeks.

Although Roxbury joined the case against Morristown & Erie Railway in the late stages, the township can be assured that safety precautions have been ordered in court for the company’s butane and propane cars, said Ragonese.

Opposition to the M&E plan prompted Hansbury to recently issue a temporary restraining order until he could review both sides of the matter.

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