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Railroad emergency response eyed by group

If railroad oil tanker cars or others carrying hazardous cargo derailed along the Norfolk Southern tracks in the Sinking Spring-Wyomissing corridor, which way would spilled material flow, where would firefighting foam come from, and where might a command post be placed?

Getting answers to those questions has moved higher on Thomas Bausher’s to-do list after several accidents involving oil trains across the country.

Bausher is emergency management coordinator for West Side Regional Emergency Management Agency, a consortium of Wyomissing, West Reading, Sinking Spring and Spring Township.

He assembled a volunteer committee several months ago to gather emergency preparedness data, in part because of the accidents involving trains carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.

The most recent accident occurred Feb. 16, when a 107-tanker car train derailed and exploded in a fireball in West Virginia, causing hundreds to be evacuated from their homes.

Similar trains pass regularly through the Sinking Spring-Wyomissing corridor.

Many hazardous materials travel along Norfolk Southern tracks, Bausher said. But the dramatic increase in the number of trains carrying Bakken crude has drawn extra attention.

Related: Oil train wrecks increase pressure for tougher safety rules

“Certainly, the oil has increased our concern and I think we need to get as prepared as we can,” Bausher said. “I saw a need to do something in addition to the all-hazards approach that the county has. That’s fine. But I felt we could do more planning since everything starts locally.”

He discussed his committee’s work Thursday morning, several hours before U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Democrat, conducted a telephone conference to talk about his push to speed up new safety measures related to oil trains.

“We have got the most advanced economy in the world and there is no reason we should have to settle for train derailments at the frequency they are happening,” Casey said.

He said he sent a letter to Shaun Donovan, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, asking that the office expedite a new safety rule related to tanker cars and increase resources for first responders.

In Berks, the West Side volunteer committee includes Mike Fesh of West Reading, Brandon Epting of Wyomissing, Steve Gibbs of Spring Township, Jeff Weidner of Sinking Spring and Kevin Neuber of Spring Township.

Bausher said they have divided research tasks among them.

For instance, he said, one person is exploring possible locations for command posts where firetrucks, ambulances, police cruisers, railroad company vehicles and other equipment could gather.

Another is logging hydrant locations and their water flow rates, and places where a tanker shuttle could be set up to provide water for firefighting.


This article was written by FORD TURNER from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.