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State Senator Patricia Ritchie calls for stricter railroad oversight

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State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is calling for stricter state oversight of north country railway lines.

CSX Rail Inc. improved certain stretches of its tracks in 2012 and 2013 that allowed trains to speed up from 25 mph to 40 mph in some areas, including the village of Canton.

Ms. Ritchie was prompted to take action after complaints from Canton village officials.

“They were concerned with the increase in speed in the village, with the proximity to the buildings. And also because it’s a college community, you also have students who walk along the tracks,” she said.

Ms. Ritchie and Canton officials met with CSX representatives in September to discuss these concerns. CSX promised to train first responders on the proper way to respond to a potential train accident, and to inform officials when trains would be carrying potentially hazardous materials, which is usually classified information.

So far CSX has not fulfilled these promises, Ms. Ritchie said.

In January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order to conduct a strict review of railways shipping volatile crude oil downstate.

This order was issued in response to a railway accident in July in Quebec, in which several train cars carrying crude oil exploded, killing 47 people.

Ms. Ritchie sent a letter to Mr. Cuomo urging him to expand the review to include all rail transport in the state, including the north country.

“This is an opportunity to check rail safety throughout New York state,” Ms. Ritchie said. “I was asking him to expand the scope of his order.”

She highlighted two recent accidents. In May, Potsdam resident Kevin P. Seig was struck and killed by a CSX train. In November, a CSX train hit a dump truck in Adams Center, injuring the truck driver.

Neither of these incidents has been tied to higher speeds.

Nevertheless, Ms. Ritchie said, she believes the trains should slow down when traveling through heavily populated areas.

“In the village of Canton, I have to agree with the village officials,” she said. “Rail is something that is necessary. We just want to make sure that it’s safe and that there is proper oversight.”

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