With the Sauer Bridge deemed unsafe and closed for most of 2014, town officials assured residents east of the railroad tracks a disabled train won’t leave them stranded in an emergency.
Members of the Town Board, State Police and the local fire department told residents assembled at the Mount Marion firehouse Tuesday, April 15 about their plan to deal with such a scenario.
Officials and residents began expressing concern over safety issues as soon as the county closed Sauer Bridge over the Esopus Creek early this winter. That scenario came true on March 31, when a 7,600-foot CSX freight train lost its air brake pressure and came to a stop for several hours.
Now, the town has a plan to stage a fire engine, mini pumper, police and EMT vehicle east of the tracks for use if a train is disabled.
“We did pledge to provide an emergency vehicle on the other side of the tracks,” town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel said. “That should be there any day.”
The fire department is equipped with small all-terrain vehicles, and unless the train involves a hazardous materials spill, medical patients can be passed between two train cars to a waiting vehicle if necessary, officials noted.
“Understand something here,” said Police Chief Joe Sinagra. “The town supervisor and the fire chief responded to this within an hour of when we had the train stop on those tracks. They brought together a meeting that evening to say, ‘Listen, we cannot have our residents compromised like this. I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’ve never seen a mobilization and a strategic plan come up so quickly for concerns for citizens.”
The town will supply a vehicle for medical purposes and, thanks to $10,000 from CSX, Diaz Ambulance will staff and equip it.
“We are concerned for your safety,” Helsmoortel said. “We have taken steps.”
The chief attributed delays during the March incident to a communication breakdown and said procedures have been corrected. For instance, CSX was unaware the bridge was closed and as Sinagra noted, the 911 center may have assumed CSX had already notified town authorities. That has now changed.
“County 911 will notify all of us that a train has stopped and that there has been a problem,” said Sinagra. “The police department will then renotify Diaz Ambulance and the fire department that a train has stopped, along with the town supervisor.”
The chief urged residents to go to the police department website at www.police.saugerties.ny.us and sign up for Nixle alerts, which are sent by email or text message and can be received by cell phones.
“If we know why the train has stopped, we’ll provide you with that information,” said Sinagra. “If, God forbid, you have to be evacuated, that’s one method we’re going to use to give you information as to what direction you should travel, how you should exit, whether you should stay in shelter.”
According to Mount Marion Fire Chief Dave Ayers, the plan is to page all fire department members to the firehouse, then vehicles will be staged at the town salt shed. Next to the shed, a pond can provide 45,000 gallons of water for fire suppression, he said.
“One of the things we’re looking for… If anybody has a garage that is close down by the tracks, that would be very beneficial for us to be able to house those vehicles,” Sinagra said.
While he understands people’s need to come and go, Ayers strongly urged against trying to go around a stopped train, especially during the March incident.
“That train was what they call a key train. It was hauling hazardous materials,” he said.
Sinagra echoed those concerns.
“In the event there was a leakage from a car, you could jeopardize your own life by trying to get around that train, so we ask you not to do that.”
Moving a disabled train could take a long time, depending on what’s wrong, and officials asked for patience.
When some residents expressed concern that the school district wasn’t notified, Sinagra said part of that blame rests with him. He said police learned of the disabled train from an irate motorist.
“It’s a lesson learned for us,” he said.
As for the bridge, at least one step is complete. County legislators unanimously approved $125,840 on Tuesday for the services of Creighton Manning Engineering for inspection of the bridge reconstruction, according to county Legislator Chris Allen. Allen expects a vote on construction funding to follow soon, to the tune of $900,000 to $1 million.
In a March 3 letter to the Mount Marion Board of Fire Commissioners, Ulster County Public Works Commissioner David Sheeley said the bridge is expected to be open sometime between October and Thanksgiving, barring any major issues.
In addition to contacting police and fire departments, residents can report train emergencies such as derailments, blocked tracks or crossing gate problems to CSX at (800) 232-0144. Non-emergencies, such as rough crossings and train horn noise can be reported to (877) 835-5279.