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Mohawk River train derailment highlights need for rail safety, spill prevention


Photo: Norm Hagan
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Just downstream from where the derailment occurred, 280,000 people rely on the Mohawk River for drinking water; fortunately no spill has been reported

Photo: Norm Hagen

The derailment of a 100-plus car tanker train along the Mohawk River highlights the real risks of hazardous rail shipments and the need for both tightened safety regulations, and spill prevention and response planning. While initial reports indicate there was no spill, fire or loss of life, the incident indicates that the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and the communities along them are not immune from disasters that have struck Lac-Megantic, Quebec, East Palestine, Ohio, and other communities.

Today’s incident (August 4, 2023) occurred near the Montgomery/Schenectady county line, near Cranesville. The train derailed just upstream of the reach of the river that over 280,000 people rely on for drinking water. Roughly three miles downstream from the derailment are wells in the Town of Rotterdam that are under influence of the Mohawk River. About 20 miles downstream is the water intake for the Town of Colonie.

Like Rotterdam, the City of Schenectady, Village of Scotia, and the towns of Clifton Park, Glenville and Niskayuna rely on the wells adjacent to the Mohawk River. The Town of Colonie and the City of Cohoes have intakes that draw water directly from the Mohawk River.

Riverkeeper has long been an advocate for greater rail safety measures, most recently calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve safety regulations related to braking. Riverkeeper has also called for spill prevention and response planning by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the Mohawk River, and the U.S. Coast Guard on the Hudson River Estuary. Both rivers have railroad tracks that hug banks for hundreds of miles. These are major routes for the transport of hazardous materials like oil and chemicals.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to this kind of risk, it’s a question of when, not if,” said Dan Shapley, Senior Director of Advocacy, Planning and Policy for Riverkeeper. “That’s why we must prepare – now.”

On the Mohawk River, spill prevention and response is complicated by the presence of many locks associated with the Erie Canal. This incident shows how urgent it is for the EPA to lead a robust planning effort.

Map: The approximate location of the August 4, 2023 train derailment (red) relative to drinking water sources, including wells adjacent to the Mohawk River (blue) and intakes in the Mohawk River (purple).

Learn more

Riverkeeper: Bomb trains and their devastating effects

Times Union: Amtrak service disrupted after freight train derails near Amsterdam

Daily Gazette: Train derailment in town of Amsterdam sparks broader rail safety, environmental concerns

Media contact:
Leah Rae, [email protected]

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