Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 30, 2013

Cambridge Delegation Partners with MassDOT to Host Ethanol Train Meetings (June 4-5, 2013)

Filed under: Cambridge,East Cambridge,transportation — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:00 pm

The Cambridge legislative delegation invites residents, homeowners, local businesses, and community organizations to join them for two public forums about a plan proposed by Global Partners to transport ethanol through the City of Cambridge using the existing rail system. To facilitate participation, two forums will be held. The first meeting will occur on June 4 at 5:30pm at the King Open School, 850 Cambridge St., Cambridge. The second meeting will take place on June 5 at 6:15pm at Graham and Parks School, 44 Linnaean St., Cambridge.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will present the findings of their ethanol safety study and answer questions from the public. Following this presentation, elected officials will facilitate an open discussion about the proposed plan and explore opportunities for public involvement.

The meetings will be hosted by the Cambridge legislative delegation, including Representatives Toomey, Decker, Rogers, and Hecht, and Senators Petruccelli, Jehlen, and DiDomenico.

MassDOT’s ethanol safety study and related documents can be found at

Any questions regarding the meeting may be directed to Dan Weber at or (617) 722-2380.


Note: Here’s what Congressman Mike Capuano had to say about this in an Apr 26 letter that’s included in the agenda materials for the Monday, June 3 Cambridge City Council meeting:

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Michael E. Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts

April 26, 2013

Mayor Henrietta Davis
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Mayor Davis:
I am writing to you in response to recent correspondence I received from the Cambridge City Council regarding a proposal to bring ethanol through several Massachusetts communities by rail. I understand the Council’s concerns and support its efforts to find a safer way to transport ethanol through heavily populated areas.

As you know, my office approaches all issues honestly, even when I expect the response may not be what is hoped for. Therefore, I am compelled to inform the Council it is my understanding that neither federal nor state law seems to provide ways to prevent ethanol from being transported through any community. There are laws and regulations available to ensure safety, but bans on the transport of hazardous materials have not been upheld in court. The Council may know that the Washington DC City Council enacted a ban on hazmat transportation through the city, but it was struck down in federal court. As far as I know, no other city has passed legislation banning the transit of hazardous materials and had the ban stand up in court. Of course, if others can identify alternative paths to judicial success, I stand ready to support them.

I am sure the Council realizes that ethanol is currently transported by rail through many urban, rural and suburban communities all over the country, including in Massachusetts. It is my understanding that the Cambridge Fire department is informed pursuant to state and federal regulation of such transits and is prepared to handle emergencies related to them. I have been informed that any local or state restrictions imposed on rail transportation of hazmat are pre-empted by interstate commerce regulations. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) informs me that they do not have jurisdiction to deny ethanol or other hazardous materials transit and do not have the authority to require the use of certain routes. The FRA does regulate track safety, street crossings, operational requirements and the integrity of tanker cars. I have asked that the FRA carefully review the integrity of the infrastructure that could be used for ethanol transport and I am confident this request will be supported.

It is my understanding that substantial work must be undertaken on the rail line that connects to Global Petroleum’s ethanol facility in Revere. Improvements may also be necessary elsewhere on the routing lines under consideration before they may be used for ethanol trains. I am confident that FRA will only allow ethanol trains on lines that meet FRA safety and operational standards and I will work hard to ensure that this confidence is well placed.

I have also reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). It is my understanding that EPA does not have a role in allowing or disallowing the transportation of ethanol. TSA informed me that ethanol is not a Rail Security Sensitive Material (RSSM) and therefore TSA does not require additional safety and/or security measures for its transportation. Please note that if ethanol were deemed an RSSM, it is my understanding that TSA still could not prohibit it. Given that the storage facility is along the water, the USCG is required to approve the facility’s security procedures. I have long experience with the Coast Guard and am confident this is a responsibility that the USCG takes very seriously.

While I regret that my initial review of the matter indicates ethanol transport cannot be prohibited, I believe my office can be helpful in other areas. One suggestion would be to have city public safety officials assess the city and region’s preparedness for a release of ethanol. I have read the MassDOT report on ethanol and understand that area fire chiefs believe there is a need for staff training and equipment. My office stands ready to aggressively support any municipal or state effort to access federal funding or seek mitigation. I also strongly support making sure first responders are informed in a timely fashion when ethanol will be transported.

Although I am not optimistic that I can prevent this proposal from being implemented, I will continue doing everything I can to be sure that the interests of our communities are protected. Particularly in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings, I understand the unease you may feel and the desire to make sure that everything possible is done to protect public safety. Please keep my office informed of the Council’s actions and any support I can offer in your endeavors.

Michael E. Capuano
Member of Congress


  1. What I wonder …Why the need to transport the ethanol by rail now? If it is transported now by other means what is the route? Is ethanol transported through other metropolitan areas these days? If so what makes this more dangerous?

    Comment by John Gintell — May 30, 2013 @ 11:32 pm

  2. Good question. My assumption is that this is purely an economic decision. According to Asst. Fire Chief Gerald Mahoney, “The rail deliveries of ethanol would principally originate in the Midwest and be moved through Western Massachusetts and ultimately to the Revere location. It is expected that the rail deliveries will primarily be unit trains, a term for a freight train consisting of railcars hauling only one dedicated commodity.”

    Taking the ethanol down the Mississippi, through the Gulf and then up the East Coast (or via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence or via the New York State Barge Canal if it can accommodate the barges) probably takes a fairly long time and involves considerable cost. A day or two by rail is most likely cheaper and faster.

    I don’t know much about the relative safety of transporting ethanol by rail. Of course, even if studies indicated relative safety, the public alarm has already been sounded.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 31, 2013 @ 12:03 am

  3. I was just reading the Final Study Report (March 29) on this and found the following:
    “Currently, ethanol is transported through Massachusetts on the CSX mainline and the New England Central Railroad to Worcester. From Worcester the ethanol trains are transported down to the Motiva Terminal in Providence where the ethanol is transferred to a barge for delivery to Global and other facilities. Barges typically carry between 680,000 and 2.5 million gallons of ethanol per vessel. As shown in Figure 2-2, ethanol trains currently pass through many dense urban areas; these include Pittsfield, West Springfield, Springfield, Greenfield, and Worcester in Massachusetts, as well as Providence, Rhode Island.”


    Rail Routes within the Study Area
    “As shown in Figure 2-2, there are a number of routes that Global could use to transport ethanol by rail directly to its Revere terminal. These rely upon either of the two main east-west rail routes through the Commonwealth, the Pan Am Southern Mainline and the CSX Mainline, which would then connect to one of four rail routes to access Revere. The Pan Am Southern Mainline could access the study area via the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line (Route 1), the Lowell Commuter Rail Line (Route 3), or the Haverhill Commuter Rail Line (Route 4), while the CSX Mainline would access the study area via the Worcester Commuter Rail Line (Route 2).”

    “Once in the study area, each of these four routes would rely on the same route to make the connection between Somerville and Revere. That route accesses the Haverhill Commuter Rail Line in the vicinity of the Boston Engine Terminal and proceeds north into Somerville. At Assembly Square, the route switches to the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail Line, crossing the Mystic River and passing through Everett and Chelsea to enter Revere. Once in Revere, the route continues north to approximately Revere Street where trains would need to make a reverse move to be switched to the spur track that leads to the Global facility. This Shared Route is shown in Figure 2-3.”

    “Based upon current plans for the upgrade of Global’s facility, the primary rail route that is expected to be used for transporting ethanol through the study area to its final destination in Revere is the Pan Am Southern Mainline. Route 1, which accesses the study area via the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line, would be the most direct route for the transportation of ethanol to Global’s facility. This potential route heads east along the Fitchburg commuter rail line into Somerville where the route would curve around the Boston Engine Terminal (BET) to access the Shared Route.”

    “While Route 1 is the most direct rail route, two other possible rail routes – Route 2 and Route 3 – have been selected for a full evaluation as part of this report. Route 2 uses the CSX Mainline and enters the study area in Allston and travels through Brighton by means of the Worcester Commuter Rail Line. The route then crosses the Charles River via the Gran Junction Railroad Bridge and passes through Cambridge into Somerville where the route would curve around the Boston Engine Terminal (BET) to access the Shared Route. Like Route 1, Route 3 uses the Pan Am Southern Mainline but accesses the study area via the Lowell Commuter Rail Line into Somerville where the route would curve around the Boston Engine Terminal (BET) to access the Shared Route. Route 4 which could possibly carry ethanol utilizing the Haverhill Commuter Rail Line was not selected for a full evaluation because of operational considerations (additional distance, an added reverse move, etc.) that make its use unlikely.”

    “Figure 2-3 shows the three routes chosen for a full evaluation and the approximate limits of the shared route that would be used by all three routes.”

    Based on this, I’d say that there’s a good likelihood that the multiple at-grade crossings along the Grand Junction in Cambridgeport and East Cambridge (Route 2) would make this an unlikely first choice for the route, though I could see this being a secondary route when the preferred route (through North Cambridge and Somerville) is unavailable. I could be completely wrong about this, but I’d say that Somerville residents and North Cambridge residents are the ones who should perhaps be the most concerned about the route for ethanol-bearing trains. The most problematic Cambridge spot would be the at-grade crossing at Sherman Street. The most problematic Somerville spot would be the Park Street crossing.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 1, 2013 @ 10:48 am

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