Lac-Megantic and “Bomb” Trains

Today, I was in Albany, NY, for the Break Free From Fossil Fuels action against the Port of Albany and Global Partners, LLC, among others for the routing of oil and gas trains through New York’s capitol. The action was also in memory of the 47 people who died in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train similar to those that come to the Port of Albany, exploded and destroyed the Quebecois city three years ago. The fossil fuels come to Albany in tanker cars from the Bakken oil reserves in North Dakota. These trains are “bomb” trains.

A study discussed by Bloomberg news revealed that “crude oil produced in North America’s booming Bakken region may be more flammable and therefore more dangerous to ship by rail than crude from other areas, a U.S. regulator said after studying the question for four months.” Why is this excessively flammable oil being shipped through a state’s capitol very close to a housing project and playground utilized by people of color?

We learned some of these answers the hard way today, hearing from local legislators and council members of the costs in asthma and related childhood illnesses in the neighborhood of the Port. We saw the effects of these “bomb trains” in cities like Lac-Megantic, and the dangers posed to similar cities throughout the world.

We spent most of the day hanging around the area where we intended to block the tracks. At some point during the afternoon, we learned that the primary action of the day was held at another spot where the train we were expecting had been diverted to avoid our action. Five intrepid members of Break Free Northeast had discovered the ploy and two of them had rappelled down to the track from a bridge and laid down on the tracks. They were successful in delaying the train in an inaccessible place until they were finally arrested. When their activity was reported to the larger group back in Albany, there were great supporting cheers from the remaining protesters.

A DJ arrived and set up shop, and the protest turned into a dance party. The Albany police and the railroad police looked on in some bemusement as the dancing continued for over an hour. I confess I watched with some glee and regret that I was no longer able to join the younger activists in their energetic work.

With the threatening rain coming in, an industrious group began to set up a tarp to cover the food area and give some protection from the rain. Several people had expressed the desire to set up an encampment on the tracks. As our bus arrived to return us to Burlington, the hardy group of about fifty were standing their ground against the police who were beginning to lose their patience. They were still standing strong after the police removed the tarps and we got our last report to that effect as we exited our bus hours later in Burlington.

Were we successful? In some sense we were. We slowed the train and occupied the tracks into the Port of Albany. We joined groups throughout the world on six continents who were protesting the continued use of fossil fuels in the face of incontrovertible evidence of climate change. We engaged the local community to get involved in the discussion, and we put the railroads, local officials and producers of these fuels on notice that the potential damage from this means of transportation far outweighed in human cost any profits they might make from their disregard of human safety. Will the world join us in saying “No?” We’ll see.

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