By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Trains carrying ethanol to a Revere company might not come through Haverhill, as city councilors feared.
State transportation officials say it is unlikely any of the trains will come near the city, although they indicated they could not be certain as rail travel is regulated on the federal level.
Two weeks ago, city leaders said they were concerned about a private company’s plan to transport large amounts of volatile and flammable ethanol fuel through Haverhill and other communities in the region.
Global Petroleum Corp., which has a petroleum storage facility in Revere, plans to have two 60-car trains of ethanol delivered to its facility along the Chelsea River each week. Ethanol is a colorless, alcohol-based liquid fuel that burns at extremely high temperatures.
Last week, David J. Mohler, executive director for MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning, sent a letter to state Rep. Brian Dempsey clarifying the proposed routes the trains will travel. Mohler said that through a study conducted by MassDOT, the agency identified four routes that are likely to be used by the ethanol trains to access the Global facility.
Mohler said that none of the likely routes to Global’s petroleum storage facility pass through Haverhill. But according to a study by MassDOT, the Haverhill Line, which stretches between Boston and Haverhill, is one of the routes identified.
“It is MassDOT’s expectation that passage of an ethanol train through the city of Haverhill, while possible, is very unlikely given that the city is located north of Revere,” Mohler said. Mohler explained that the ethanol trains will be originating in the Midwest, west of the Global facility, and that there are no major freight rail connections between these points that run through Haverhill.
Mohler said that ethanol, which is used as a fuel additive to reduce carbon monoxide emissions from motor vehicles, is primarily produced domestically in the Midwest region of the country and that Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois are the leading production states.
Mohler said Global company currently receives shipments of ethanol by barge and truck at its facility in Revere, where it is then mixed with gasoline for distribution in New England. He said Global has proposed upgrading its facility to also allow direct shipment of ethanol by rail.
The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is studying the proposal as required by the Legislature, but Mohler said the review so far has focused on the communities of Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett and Revere.
City Council agreed two weeks ago to ask Haverhill’s legislative delegation and Mayor James Fiorentini to request the city be included in the study. The mayor said he made the request to the transportation agency Feb. 14.
“Our community is very close to the train tracks,” Councilor William Ryan said. “Some houses are right up near the rails.”
Ryan said he learned about the proposal from Global Petroleum when he was contacted by Chelsea’s city manager and the Chelsea Green Space and Recreation Committee. That group has been contacting communities north of Boston to request their “action and support to stop this life-threatening plan,” according to a letter from the group to Ryan.
Councilor Thomas Sullivan said the city should insist on being included in the study due to potential risks to residents in the event of an accident or terrorism.
“As a result of the letter being sent to our legislative delegation, we were able to get an answer that sounds positive and that we won’t be having trains with ethanol traveling though out community,” Sullivan said. “The potential issue appears to have been resolved.”
Mohler told Dempsey that although none of the likely train routes pass through Haverhill, MassDOT cannot provide a definitive answer on whether ethanol will be transported by rail through Haverhill because rail transportation is regulated at the federal level and cannot be regulated by states or municipalities. Sullivan said the city will be monitoring the situation in event plans change.
“If anything changes we will be reaching out to our federal legislators,” Sullivan said.
According to a 2011 study by the state Department of Environmental Protection, ethanol is the largest-by-volume hazardous material currently transported by train. Special alcohol-resistant foam is required to extinguish the material should it catch fire.
An aide for Dempsey said Dempsey will push Haverhill’s request to be included in the transportation department’s study as soon as he receives it. The aide said the state study is scheduled to be completed March 23.