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Derailments Raise Emergency Funding Concerns

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The nation's aging rail system is getting increased local and national attention. But is Western New York prepared for a serious rail accident?

Last week, the country's Homeland Security chief announced a new railroad security plan. And two Unites States lawmakers from New York are calling for better inspections and improvements to the nation's rail system.

Their concerns arose from the two latest train derailments in Western New York. Lawmakers say its a matter of time before there is a dangerous hazardous chemical spill in the community.

Erie County Health Department Commissioner Anthony Billittier said such disaster could overwhelm responders.

"We're taking it very seriously and fortunately we've had an infusion of some federal dollars," said Billittier. "But, by definition, you're never truly prepared for a disaster, because a disaster means that the event has outstripped your resources."

Billittier said that is why homeland security funding has been so important. The county has purchased supplies and equipment. They've hired staff and begun training. Billittier said the real disaster would be if they lose federal funding.

"We're starting to see already decreased amounts of funding. UASI, for example, the Urban Area Security Initiative, may go away next year. So, if it does, many of the staff who we've hired with these funds will probably go away as well," said Billittier.

He added, "and, so we'll have a bunch of equipment, sitting on shelves, and we'll have people who we've trained no longer working for the (Erie) County and other local governments."

Billittier said lawmakers concerned with rail safety, need to be fighting just as hard to have that homeland security funding secured for the region.