Posted on May 20, 2015

STUART (CBS12) — With a projected 43% percent increase in rail traffic coming in the next year, emergency response teams are taking a closer look at how they would respond to a train accident involving chemicals in the cargo.

The Martin County Board of County Commissioners voted today to create an action plan specific to rail car Hazmat accidents involving chemicals, and requested state funding for the County’s Hazmat Team response, training and equipment be restored.

The rail car chemical release vulnerability study presented by Martin County Fire Rescue shows even Stuart is at risk for a train crash chemical spill.

The study shows a 300% increase of rail traffic in the next few years with the start of All Aboard Florida passenger rail service, and added freight from the ports.

The informational presentation detailed the community’s risks should a rail car carrying common chemicals crash and a release occur. The timing of this presentation is in response to the All Aboard Florida proposal and the potential increase in passenger and freight traffic along the Florida East Coast (FEC) rail line.

“Even with a mass casualty incident, we still have a large number of people we would have to evacuate, shelter in place or take some type of immediate action to try to protect should this incident occur.”

Fire Rescue Division Chief Dan Wouters stated, “The risk exists today but the potential of these incidents will increase. We could see a 300 percent increase in trains-freight and passenger- at our 28 crossings.”

Using high-tech software, Fire Rescue generated scenarios involving three products commonly transported through Martin County on the FEC tracks.

The red zones in the report are the regions where the public would be critically injured or killed within 60 minutes of the incident.

Chief Wouters say a Chlorine spill would be the worst case scenario.

“This chemical is much more toxic than the previous chemical. that foot print that was 1.4 miles long is now 6 miles long,” Chief Wputers said.

The scenarios display a 2:00 a.m. rail car crash resulting in a chemical release at three busy intersections in Martin County in normal weather conditions.

Fire rescue crews have no prior knowledge of what chemicals are carried in the cargo trains.

Home Land Security laws prevent disclosure for fear of trains being targeted.

Only after an accident is the list of chemicals disclosed, so firefighters may not know when they arrive what chemical they are dealing with for several minutes.

Chief Wouters summarized, “Fire Rescue’s resources to manage such large incidents are limited. These scenarios have the potential to rapidly exceed the public safety response system in place.”

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