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"They probably aren't real key on releasing that information," Bouchard said of the rail carriers. "It could be sensitive. We don't maintain records on what they are moving."
The lack of records isn't unique to the sheriff's office. Local and state officials across the country have raised concerns that they receive little to no information about when, or what kind of, hazardous materials are shipped through their communities or how railroads pick their routes.
Patrick Waldron, public affairs manager for CN Transportation, said the rail company shares some hazardous materials information, however such information isn't available to the general public.
"It's upon request," he stated. "CN shares hazardous materials information with some communities that we travel through. For instance, (with) first responders, to make sure that they have information that they need in the case of an emergency. The federal government considers it security information."
Rail lines operated by CN run through Oakland County. The line runs north/south between Ferndale and Pontiac, through Royal Oak, Birmingham, Bloomfield and other communities. The CN line also runs east/west from Pontiac to the west end of Oakland County through Waterford, White Lake, Springfield and Holly.
Waldron said sharing information with first responders is a longstanding voluntary practice. "We also provide training to communities," he said.
Royal Oak Fire Chief Chuck Thomas said most contact with the railroad company is made during the city's Arts, Beats and Eats event each summer.
"They might (share information) with the police, but I get nothing," Thomas said. "We do a lot with them during Arts, Beats and Eats. All the trains that come through then, they avoid all the hazardous stuff for that time period, but day-to-day information? No."
Birmingham Fire Chief Michael Metz said the railroad does provide training for HAZMAT personnel when requested, but there is no schedule for training with the rail companies, and no regular communications about the types of materials coming through the community.
"It might be helpful," Metz said about knowing specific materials that are coming through the area.
"We have our HAZMAT team that will train with them from time to time," he said. "They don't advise us in advance of what rail cars are carrying, but each train has to have shipping papers on board to say which cars have what in them, and MSDS sheets. We just have to assume there are hazardous materials on the train."...continued on page 3