Morris County ask courts to block M&E Railway’s propane-butane rail storage plan

MORRISTOWN N.J. (Morris County) – Morris County filed legal papers Tuesday in Superior Court asking for a restraining order to prevent the Morristown & Erie Railway from storing rail cars that are filled with propane and butane on the tracks of the county owned High Bridge Rail Line.

The county also asked the court to prevent Morristown & Erie from fulfilling a contractual agreement that would add to the 18 butane-filled rail cars already parked on the tracks in Mount Olive, with as many as 100 rail cars expected by the end of this month.

Morris County contracts with M & E Railway to operate rail services along its three county-owned railroads, including the High Bridge Branch located in the townships of Roxbury, Mount Olive, and Washington. That five-year contract commenced in 2012 and is due to expire on June 30, 2017.

The legal papers also contend Morristown & Erie did not alert county and local fire and emergency responders to the storage plan, and does not have an emergency response plan in place.

RailUnder protest and legal correspondence demanding otherwise, the Morristown & Erie has contracted with Gibson Gas to store rail cars containing propane and butane along the High Bridge Branch in Mount Olive.

Though transport of these materials is allowable along rail lines, due to the county’s ownership of the High Bridge Branch, the county believes it is in a position to prevent such storage. County officials allege that M & E Railway did not properly consult with the county or hold promised briefings with the affected towns prior to implementing its contract to store the rail cars.

Morris County Officials are working cooperatively with the impacted municipalities to ensure the safety of residents via a two-track plan: Legal action, and a partnership with county, local and mutual aid emergency response agencies to prepare a comprehensive and coordinated response to any safety issues that arise due to storage of the rail tankers.

Morristown & Erie Railway has a one-year agreement with Gibson Gas to store up to 100 liquefied butane and propane cars on the High Bridge Branch. Under this arrangement storage would continue until the individual cars are transported to Gibson Gas customers.

The railway has communicated to the county that all federally-required safety and security requirements are in place. But this knowledge does not lessen the concerns of the county and local governments, which are adamant about preventing this practice.

Morristown & Erie Railway asserts it is acting within its rights as the rail line operator.

However, the county contends in its legal filing that the company has not followed protocols as outlined in the management agreement with the county, nor has it coordinated with the local emergency responders.

“At no point was I, nor any of my staff, contacted by anyone from M&E to discuss emergency response preparedness or contingency plans,’’ said Scott DiGiralomo, Morris County Director of Law and Public Safety and County Emergency Management Coordinator, in the legal filing.

“In essence, the loaded rail cars were moved into the county before the emergency response community had the opportunity to plan a specific response for an emergency involving a large number of LPG (propane and butane containing) rail cars.’’

According to a post on Mount Olive Twp Mayor Rob Greenbaum’s Facebook page, “M&E has not had any discussions with the Mt Olive representatives but M&E has hazmat qualified personnel who will be calling Mt. Olive police and fire. M&E has offered training regarding hazmats in the past and will offer it again for the fire, police and municipal and county personnel who want to be trained. Now that the cars are moving to Mt. Olive M&E’s trained personnel will be calling on local police and fire this week.”

“Washington Township Police, OEM, emergency service agencies and West Morris Regional School District have begun addressing this safety concern in their emergency preparedness planning and will continue to do so,” according to Washington Twp website.

Morristown & Erie officials did not respond to earlier requests from RNJ for comment.

By: Jay Edwards
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