Selectmen express concern, urge due diligence on CSX project

CSX wants to assure area residents that its proposed chemical transfer station in Westborough will be safe, but Southborough Selectman John Rooney last night urged officials to look deeper and do their due diligence on the project.

CSX has set up a website for the project (, in which they tout their safety record and the benign nature of the material to be handled at the site. Rooney said that raised a red flag for him.

“Until recently BP had an excellent safety record as well,” he said. “The possibility of an accident is real. We can’t take chances with the health and safety of our residents.”

“I assume due diligence is being done by Westborough,” Rooney said. “I hope they do their due diligence and not just read website.”

Rooney said his own research into the project uncovered inconsistencies in some of CSX’s claims, including the type of chemicals that will be handled at the site. He also noted accidents in New York, West Virginia, and other states involving CSX trains carrying similar materials to those that would be handled in Westborough.

Officials from CSX and its subsidiary Transflow, which would operate the facility, have repeated refused to meet with Southborough to discuss their plans.

Rooney acknowledged that Southborough doesn’t have any jurisdiction over the project, but said CSX should still extend the courtesy of meeting with the town since the transfer station will be located so close to our border. “We need to have a plan in place, and unfortunately we’re handcuffed right now.”

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said Southborough personnel need to be trained to assist in an emergency at the site. “For as long as I’ve lived in this town, the first town Westborough calls for assistance is Southborough,” she said. “If they’re going to have a hazmat plan for this site, we need to know what it is.”

A handful of residents also attended last night’s board meeting and expressed concern over traffic, emergency response plans, and the potential impact on nearby Cedar Swamp.

Increased truck traffic down Southville Road has been a major concern of area residents, but CSX said in a letter to the town that they do not plan on routing any trucks going to or from the facility through Southborough.

Southborough Town Administrator Jean Kitchen said she has asked Representative Carolyn Dykema to help convince CSX to talk with the town. In the meantime, Phaneuf said Fire Chief John Mauro, Jr. and Town Planner Eric Denoncourt will continue to meet with their counterparts in Westborough to advocate for the town’s interests.

Residents are also invited to attend meetings in Westborough on the project. For any of you interested in doing so, I’ll post details about those meetings as they’re made available.

Related stories:
Fire chief says proposed chemical transfer station poses ‘little risk’
CSX official decline to meet with Southborough about chemical transfer station
CSX proposes chemical transfer station near Southborough border – what does it mean for us?

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I like John Rooney
13 years ago

The man is smart, always does his homework, and is unfailingly polite and professional. Lucky us.

Pat Q
13 years ago

I second the post above. “Thank you” to Mr. Rooney for looking out for Southborough and digging a little deeper for us. Also, great point made by Ms. Phaneuf that the first town Westborough calls for assistance is Southborough. This town should absolutely be involved in the process with CSX and Westborough.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago

Put yourselves in CSX’s shoes for a moment. If you ran the company would you volunteer for additional public review and scrutiny of a project that was absolutely not necessary to secure the required permits? The answer is clearly no.

The real play here is to make sure that our neighbors in Westborough make sure that our concerns are addressed. I have a fair amount of confidence that the Fire Chief is exerting influence behind the scenes. I know this will not be popular but if the town wanted to play hardball then we could say that you address our questions or if there is a problem at the site Westborough will need to go elsewhere for mutual aide.

I am not advocating this (and would vote against it) but for those of you who want to bring CSX to heel that is an avenue.

John Kendall
13 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Go elsewhere for mutual aid…………now that’s an unconscionable threat. Find another way Al.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

I did not say I supported the idea, if fact I don’t, but it appears to be the only serious lever we have. The larger point is that we don’t have a voice in this decision because it is not happening in our town. Our only voice is the goodwill of Westborough and informal relations between our public safety officials and Westborough’s.

We do have a mutual aid problem. Every year we provide significantly more services to other towns than we receive. The Chief does a good job of keeping track of these stats. The ratio has improved but is still on the order of 2:1. This means in effect, year in and year out, we are subsidizing the fire services of our neighboring towns. In the long run (10 + years) we should be getting as much mutual aide as we provide in a fair system.

Mutual aide is really important to all of us but we need to recognize there are some cost disparities. This is probably an argument for a regional fire service except that I am very distrustful of regional entities with taxing power.

John Kendall
13 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Sorry Al….I will disagree until the day I die on this. Mutual aid plans are in place to assist departments who have an incident the extends them beyond their capabilities. It has nothing to do with money or politics…it has EVERYTHING to do with saving lives and property. The only time, and I mean ONLY time any municipality should ever even have a thought of shutting off mutual aid is when another municipality uses it on a regular basis to subsidize daily operations (Lawrence, Mass). Argue if you will on this one, but if the town needs leverage on the Trans Flo issue, use something else besides lives.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

Read my first sentence, I agree with you. I was just suggesting that there is a very lousy lever that is available. If someone asked me to pull that lever I would decline but it does exist.

I don’t think we have any other levers and since I agree with you that this is not one we should pull all this debate kind of meaningless.

Pat Q
13 years ago

Legally… would think there would be some sort of regulation that mandates a company like CSX (or any company that deals with the kinds of materials they deal with) HAVE to keep surrounding areas hazmat informed…not so much dictated by town borders but just by distance from the site.

In other words, you (CSX) set up house here in Town A, then you (CSX) are responsible for informing local hazmat ready people within a 15 mile (or whatever) radius, how ever many towns that radius may include.

There is something not right (another red flag?) about them “refusing” to meet with Southborough personnel, in my opinion. Quite frankly Al, I don’t want to
go on your “fair amount of confidence that the Fire Chief is exerting influence behind the scenes” (and I don’t mean any disrepect to the Fire Chief). I’m glad he is but, he shouldn’t have to do this “behind the scenes”. Southborough should be involved, out in the open.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q

I doubt very much that such a regulation exists, particularly in Ma. This is a very old political play. Put an undesired but essential development (think landfill) near the border of another town so that some of the impacts are felt by those who do not have a voice in the decision.

In Ma. there is the State and Cities and Towns, Counties are almost vestigial. This is a Westborough deal and regardless of how we feel we have no formal authority.

Their refusal to meet with Southborough is perfectly rational from their perspective. They do not need our permission or input. We have nothing to offer them that they do not already have (mutual aid) so there is nothing in it for them but costs and delay. You may not like it but I think that is the reality of the situation.

Kelly L.
13 years ago

Really?! There is no state oversight of things like this? It seems utterly crazy to have “each town for itself” when up against a mammoth corporation like CSX. I agree with Pat Q’s comment – is there no rule concerning the radius around a hazmat site (or environmentaly risky site, even if it is not technically hazmat), regardless of town borders? And also agree that such an important public safety issue should not depend on personal behind-the-scenes agreements between fire chiefs, no matter how much we respect those chiefs. Those individuals should not be put in that position. Such matters should be planned for and dealt with publicly through a reasonable and transparent process. Selectmen, thanks for digging deeper on this.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  Kelly L.

I did not say there was no state oversight. There probably is but I cant site chapter and verse. I said the Southborough has no authority or jurisdiction. Maybe it should but I am pretty sure it does not.

From the state perspective this project is probably a big win. It moves the facility out of an urban (Allston) area to a much more remote and less populated area. Who do you think will win at the statehouse when Boston interests are pitted against a small town?

I am a realist. Westborough is the only town with jurisdiction and authority in this matter. If CSX thought for a second they needed us they would be here with a charm offensive. It is clear they do not think our input is necessary.

I am not defending this situation but I think that is the reality of how things are. Not how we wish they were. That is why, like it or not, the relationship between our fire chief and Westborough’s are probably the greatest influence we can bring to bear.

Remember the old prayer “Help me change the things I can change and accept the things I cant”

Al Hamilton
13 years ago

At the risk of pouring gas on the fire:

The reality is that neither the State or Cities and Town have much authority when dealing with railroads. They are largely exempt from State and Local regulation. They are governed by the Interstate Commerce Act. This act specifically preempts State and Local regulations.

This means that local zoning, safety and other regulations do not apply to railroads. CSX can park a train across Rt 30 for an hour and the police chief is powerless to do anything.

Here is a presentation that summarizes the issue (admittedly from a RR perspective)

The intent of the ICCTA and other Federal Regs is to permit a uniform set of rules for RR operations and to prevent a local jurisdiction from holding the RR hostage vetoing a project.

13 years ago

Maybe Southboro should take steps to at least insist that CSX comply with their published intentions to keep their trucks off of Southboro roads. How difficult to enact legal restrictions on the Southboro roads in that general area? And if we have such a great history of providing mutual aid to our neighbor, why aren’t we seeing Westboro exert more public pressure on CSX to cooperate with us?

13 years ago

When Long Cadilac and Hummer moved to the end of Middle rd, they argeed they would not use Middle rd to test drive vehicles on. It was documented by the town that they would not use it. This was a request by the residents of Middle rd based on there previos exepriance with freightliner and there use of the road and the constant damage and safety issues that they created.

Since Long moved in they have used Middle rd on a daily basis and have ignored the residents and the towns request to stop and are still using it today.

No matter what CSX says about traffic and other issues, don’t beleive them. What they say now and what happens after they are moved in will be two differant things.

If anything please keep this in mind, once CSX gets approval and moves in, you will never have a say again. Westborough residents should be fighting this all the way.

Pat Q
13 years ago

**Lots of information but worth the reading, I think. Above are 3 VERY interesting articles…..perhaps good indications of where CSX’s priorities usually lay. Granted it is with the commuter rail but this was a HUGE deal, many years in the making and deals specifically with the public’s safety and their interest (or disinterest) in it.

The 3rd site/article that I reference is perhaps the most negative. It specifically touches on the proposed chemical transfer site planned for Westborough. Would love to hear people’s comments.

13 years ago

Pat Q,
Just read the articles in the links you provide and am more concerned than ever. I think it may be time for our town officials to reach out to our state representatives and ask for their involvement. Southboro’s issues/concerns seem to be trumped or overlooked by officials more concerned with their ‘bigger’ agendas. If there are still state permits to be obtained and we can’t make headway via Westboro’s town officials, then escalation seems like the next logical step.
Southboro town officials: I think this is a public safety matter and so should you. Attending Westboro committee meetings but getting little or nothing accomplished has gone on long enough. Please initiate whatever escalation processes are available to us.

Pat Q
13 years ago

1)Regarding the 3rd article I have referenced above, see below which was taken from the Sierra Website: (if you haven’t read it, it is essentially a letter from the Sierra Mass.chapter President to Secretary Ian A. Bowles, at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs requesting the Secretary to require CSX to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement and perhaps delay the certificate which would allow the project to proceed without further review). Below is an update taken from Sierra’s website:

“In a response filed with EOEEA, the Sierra Club contended, however, that the relocation raised serious issues in terms of transportation planning, justice to the surrounding neighborhoods, and public safety.

We strongly urged the Environmental Secretary Ian A. Bowles to deny the railroad’s request for an environmental certificate, instead requiring it to submit a full Environmental Impact Statement to address the concerns of the various communities affected by the work in question”.

Update: On December 23, 2010, Secretary Bowles issued his decision. Although he approved the ENF, determining that CSX does not need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, it remains to be seen whether his action will put the issue to rest, for Worcester or for other communities of interest with a stake in the matter. ”

2) please see article below which was just posted yesterday ((1/14/2011)
mentioning (as in above) the denial by the state, of further environmental review.

“Two weeks ago, however, state environmental officials issued an environmental certificate for the proposed project, ruling that the project did not require an environmental impact report. The certificate will allow the project to proceed without further environmental review by the state.”

3) Interestingly, one of the points that Sierra made in their request was:

“The Worcester rail yard is not just one discrete project, but part of a larger proposal planned to be implemented at various sites in Massachusetts. Its effects should not be studied separately but all together, as this project will have many widespread effects and not just in one or two locations. This is a big study, but the effects are large. At the very least, it must frankly address both the potential risks of the project, and its plans to work with in-house and local hazmat teams in the event of any catastrophe.”

At this point it seems we are looking at a done deal. The concerns I have are:

1. CSX reports that “only 30% of client’s materials are labeled hazardous”
Are we certain that this number won’t grow in the future to 50%, 60% ?

2. Currently the site will sit on 26 acres… there the potential for this site to be bigger in the future?

3.In one of the earlier newspaper articles from MWDN Westborough Selectman Chairman Rod Jane brings up the following:

“Another issue that Jané would like to see discussed with CSX prior to granting approval for this project is the continuing problems with CSX’s railroad bridge that spans East Main Street. Jané noted that CSX is going to have to strengthen the bridge to handle the added weight of the trains that will be used at the Walkup Drive site and would like to see them raise the height of the bridge while their working on strengthening it. It would be the perfect time to fix the continuing problem we are having with the bridge,” Jané said, “and the fact that trucks seem to get stuck underneath it at least once a week.”

Is this issue being addressed by CSX?

4.Finally, sorry for the long post. I am approx.3 miles from the site and felt further digging was warranted.

John Kendall
13 years ago

I too live within 3 miles of the proposed site, yet I don’t over-worry. I am concerned about the possible environmental impact. It pretty much sits in Great Cedar Swamp, which is loaded with wildlife and is also the headwaters of the Sudbury River, which has been heavily polluted by industry forever. But keep in mind that the railroads have operated a large auto transfer yard in that very same location. As far as Trans Flo……I don’t recall any major incidents in the Allston yard. Framingham did have traffic and dust problems due to the concrete transfers. I had a recent conversation with someone who remembers years ago a major acid leak involving the railroad. That was actually in Somerville, not in Boston and not at a Trans Flo facility. In fact, that incident is what eventually brought about the statewide Department of Fire Services Haz Mat teams we know today. Perhaps someone should contact the Boston Fire Department and see what knowledge they have of Trans Flo. As far as Worcester, I don’t understand that. How can CSX, a private company, take land by eminent domain to increase the size of that yard? How does the law allow that to happen? There are lots of questions that need to be answered. My suspicions are that until our legislators change state law, and Congress reworks railroad regulations, Southborough will be sitting on the sidelines on this issue.

13 years ago

Environmental concerns! public safety concerns! traffic and cost concerns! big business thumbing their nose at a concerned public! a mutual aid neighboring town missing an opportunity to strongly lobby on our behalf!

Seems like a wonderful opportunity for some of our town leaders to get in front of an issue for a change.

John Rooney
13 years ago

This is not a proximity issue, but an issue that impacts all of us. Not only does it have the potential of immediate impact, environmental issues have generational impact. I would encourage as many Southborough residents as possible attend the Westborough meetings and stand up an be heard.

We should be concerned about a November 10, 2010 email wherein CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the hazardous materials would include “petrochemicals, acids, corrosives, raw materials used in pharmaceutical and cosmetics production, de-icing fluid used at Hanscom Field and Logan Airport, and chemicals used to ensure clean water for local communities.’’ As many of you know, petrochemicals are chemicals made from petroleum (crude oil) and natural gas. Some of the more familiar ones (at least to me) are ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, methanol, phosphoric acid, sodium hydroxide, and toluene.

We should be concerned about CSX’s representation to Westborough that they have an excellent safety record. In its 2009 Annual Report, CSX notes “[t]he Company has been identified as a potentially responsible party at approximately 257 environmentally impaired sites.” See Perhaps I have a different definitional understanding of the term “excellent safety record.”

As a citizenry, we can never be too well informed when it comes to issues with such long-lasting consequences. Consider the following:

A March 20, 1997 incident near Oneida, New York. A CSX freight train derailed and six tank cars were breached, including four carrying liquefied petroleum gas, one carrying toluene (petrochemical), and one carrying ferric chloride (petrochemical). Estimated damages and environmental cleanup costs were $6.73 million. See Cause of the accident noted to be rail failure;

A June 20, 1998 incident near Cox Landing, West Virginia. Thirty cars of CSX derailed and a combined volume of approximately 21,500 gallons of formaldehyde (petrochemical) solution leaked. Total damages in the accident exceeded $2.6 million. Cause of the accident was identified as the instability of the CSX track. See;

A July 18, 2001 incident near Baltimore, Maryland. A CSX freight train derailed and one of the cars contained tripropylene (yes, again a petrochemical) and two cars contained hydrochloric acid. The derailed tank car containing tripropylene was punctured, and the escaping tripropylene ignited. A 40-inch-diameter water main directly above the tunnel broke in the hours following the accident and flooded the tunnel with millions of gallons of water. Total costs associated with the accident, including response and clean-up costs, were estimated at about $12 million. Cause unexplained. See However, the NTSB was concerned with CSX’s inadequate record keeping procedures. See

An October 10, 2007 incident near Painesville, Ohio. CSX train derailment, seven cars carrying ethanol, one tank car carrying liquefied petroleum gas, and one tank car carrying phthalic anhydride (yes, again, a petrochemical). The ethanol tank cars and many of the other freight cars caught on fire. Twenty-six of the derailed cars were destroyed. Property damage costs $1.4 million and environmental clean-up costs $7.08 million. Cause of the accident was once again rail failure. See

A 2007 article finding over 3,500 safety violations on CSX Railway property. With all due respect to CSX, this simply does not comport with my idea of an excellent safety record. See

I am confident that the elected officials in Westborough will conduct their own due diligence and investigation and ask the hard questions. If they do not, it is my hope that Southborough residents will rise up and speak with one voice and demand uncompromised safety. Yes, it is inconvenient and time-consuming to attend these meetings; yet, we owe it to each other as well as those who some day will follow in our footsteps.

Pat Q
13 years ago


Are there any dates yet on when the meetings with will take place in Westborough?


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