Trains Carrying Flammable Liquids Won’t Be Traveling Through Greater Boston

After facing strong opposition, a fuel company pulled its proposal to ship ethanol along MBTA tracks to a facility in Revere.

Photo via Stop Ethanol Trains on Facebook

Photo via Stop Ethanol Trains on Facebook

Opponents of a plan to allow freight trains to ship flammable liquids through cities and towns in the Greater Boston area claimed a slight victory this week after the owners of the fuel company behind the initiative backed down.

Global Partners LP withdrew their proposal to bring millions of gallons of ethanol by train through multiple Massachusetts communities after the legislature passed an amendment that would make it difficult for the company to obtain a license to make improvements to their Revere facility, including adding tracks leading into the site. “His words were ‘We surrender’,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, associate director of the Chelsea Collaborative, referring to her conversation with a senior executive of Global Partners Monday afternoon. “The $17.5 billion company says that community opposition to their ethanol trains is too strong.”

Bongiovanni and several activist groups have been fighting Global’s plan to use trains that would travel along MBTA-owned tracks, hauling ethanol to their Revere headquarters, for more than two years.

The organizing efforts were led by members of the Chelsea Creek Action Group, a coalition of residents from East Boston and Chelsea, Alternatives for Community and Environment, an environmental justice organization, and residents from Somerville, Cambridge, and other nearby communities that could have been put in the line of danger due to the proposed train track routes.

Elected officials on Beacon Hill also lobbied against Global’s desire to ship the highly flammable liquid through densely populated areas by filing an amendment to the state budget, which was passed by the Joint Ways and Means Committee on Monday, July 1. Sponsored by Senators Anthony Petruccelli, Sal DiDomenico, and Patricia Jehlen, the wording of the amendment said that facilities such Global’s, within a half-mile of 4,000 or more residents, and accepting 5,000 or more gallons of ethanol per week, should not receive a Chapter 91 license if they apply.

Global’s plan was to bring in up to nine million gallons of ethanol per week by train, potentially putting millions of residents and 100 communities across the Commonwealth at risk of exposure to a massive fire or explosion, Bongiovanni said. The proposed plan would have essentially replaced the company’s existing methods of transportation by barge near the Chelsea Creek along Route 1A.

A study done by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in 2012, commissioned by the legislature, showed that the areas Global wanted to travel through were not equipped to extinguish the flames that could be caused by an accident like a freight train tipping over.

In order to change their method of transport from water to train, however, Global needed to make improvements to its facility, including adding the tracks to their headquarters, in order to obtain a Chapter 91 license from the state. But due to the strong opposition on both a state and local level, the company backed down from its plan.

“This is a tremendous victory for residents of Chelsea, East Boston, and Revere,” said Kim Foltz, Director of Community Building and Environment. “After tireless organizing, the message has finally gotten through to Global Oil—ethanol trains do not belong in our community.”

The same activist groups that rallied against Global are now trying to get communities to push Governor Deval Patrick to pass a law that would ban these types of proposals altogether, and keep similar plans from being presented by fuel companies in the future.

  • MGarrity

    Thank you to everyone who has supported this
    cause. It is not done, we need to keep the pressure up to guarantee our
    safety in our communities. Please take this next step to ask the
    governor to keep the amendment in the budget bill. Otherwise another
    proposal could crop up in a couple of years. ASK THE GOVERNOR TO SIGN

  • David Duff

    headline could have read “[More] Trucks Carrying Flammable Liquids will be Traveling through Greater Boston”,

  • Rich

    This is a tough question. We need fuel and other flammable substances. Tanker trucks are traveling through our neighborhoods every day.

    If we try to stop the transport of such things through Massachusetts, we block Interstate Commerce, and that would be illegal.

    What if New York State said no transporting of hazardous materials through it, and cuts New England off from needed supplies? What if you couldn’t get fuel for your car or heat for your home?

    This is a very problematic slippery slope.

    I don’t know the best answer, but I guess it’s just to make the transport safer and prevent things like what happened in Canada.

  • Luther_Manning

    Aren’t the people in the photograph Trespassing on RR tracks? And if trains are banned from carrying ethanol, how will it be shipped? By tanker or barge, which will cost more in the end. Or via tanker trucks ?

    Fact is, petroleum products have been shipped via rail for over 100+ years.

  • Luther_Manning

    Currently, Ethanol is barged from Providence RI to Boston….

  • KazakFlea

    Shipping ethanol by truck is cost prohibitive. Shipping by rail is much cheaper and safer than trucks, but not as safe as just barging it, which is what they currently do. If the companies involved want to take on the liability, go ahead, but what they are doing is increasing the risk of a potentially dangerous event to increase their profit margin while putting the cost for that on the public (in terms of preparation, mitigation, response and rebuilding/loss restitution).

    The Federal ethanol mandate is the problem. We currently need petroleum. There is no need for ethanol in our gas except to provide subsidies to farmers out west.