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July 9, 2013

N.H. sees more trains hauling oil to Canada

Quebec disaster has local officials talking

The massive Quebec rail explosion comes as trains dedicated to hauling oil have started rolling through the same New Hampshire towns traversed by Amtrak’s Downeaster.

The disaster Saturday in Canada left five dead, 40 missing, forced 1,000 people to evacuate their homes and destroyed at least 30 buildings.

That train was carrying oil.

So are trains now passing through Plaistow, Newton, Kingston and Atkinson, the state’s rail safety inspector said.

“Recently, they have been running dedicated unit trains,” said inspector John Robinson of the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Rail & Transit. “Those are freight trains carrying all one type of commodity.”

The trains are transporting oil from the shale fields of North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick.

Robinson did not have details on the amount of oil passing through New Hampshire.

“It does vary, but there has been a pretty steady flow,” he said.

Officials said the state doesn’t have a reporting requirement about shipments, which for business reasons railroads are reluctant to discuss.

State and federal agencies have discussed the need for emergency preparedness because of the shipments, Robinson said.

“We’re still kind of in our infancy,” said Rick Berry, administrator of spill reponse and complaint investigation for the state Department of Environmental Services.

The Quebec explosion was a topic for discussion among DES officials yesterday, Berry said.

“That was kind of an unusual cirumstance that happened in Quebec, as I understand it,” Berry said. “This was a runaway train, unattended at the time. That’s a bit of an anomaly.”

Still, the oil industry’s expansion of rail freight use has officials wary of the need to be prepared.

“It looks like they will be increasing shipments,” Berry said.

Robinson said the Southern New Hampshire rail line, the Main Line-West, was inspected just last week.

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