Demand notices issued for violation of abandonment of railroad ties

Franklin County

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has issued demand notices requiring Pan Am Railways (Pan Am) and Boston & Maine Corporation (B&M) to pay $90,000 in penalties for new violations of a consent agreement and Solid Waste Management regulations concerning the abandonment of railroad ties along a rail line in Buckland, Greenfield and Hatfield.  

MassDEP issued enforcement orders previously to Pan Am and B&M for their waste management practices involving old railroad ties. Starting in 1999, MassDEP has responded to complaints of abandonment of thousands of rail ties by Pan Am and B&M, resulting in numerous incidents of fires along the rail lines.

In 2007, MassDEP issued an order and penalty to Pan Am and B&M, which they appealed.  With the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General, MassDEP, Pan Am and B&M entered into a consent agreement in 2013, to resolve the violations and establish enforceable protocols set forth in a management plan. At that time, Pan Am and B&M paid a penalty of $49,746.  MassDEP agreed to suspend $10,000 of the penalty provided there were no violations of the agreement. The management protocol allows for temporary staging of used ties for recycling, limits the storage periods, and requires storage of ties in a manner that minimizes fire hazard and threats to emergency response personnel.

In 2015, MassDEP was notified of three fires involving discarded rail ties in Athol, Buckland, and Holyoke. On June 13, 2017, a major fire occurred in a large rail tie pile in Northfield that required 11 fire departments, from three states, to respond. In addition, in June 2017, MassDEP inspected a large rail tie pile in Buckland, near the town center that presented an unacceptable fire hazard. In both cases, the management of the ties were in violation of the agreed-upon protocols, resulting in MassDEP issuing a demand for stipulated penalties of $60,000 to Pan Am and B&M for failure to comply with the consent agreement.

In May of 2018, MassDEP conducted a comprehensive survey of the rail lines that Pan Am and B&M operate in the western part of the state. The results of this survey were compared to those of the comprehensive survey conducted in May 2015. In several locations, rail ties were present during both the 2015 and 2018 surveys in violation of the consent agreement management plan and solid waste regulations. As a result of these violations, on September 28, 2018, MassDEP issued demands for stipulated penalties of $30,000 for each of three locations where violations were observed, for a total of $90,000.

“MassDEP will continue to monitor the railroads’ performance on this issue and has not ruled out issuance of additional penalties. There has been a long, multi-year dialogue with the railroad on this issue; Pan Am and B&M have had more than enough time to come into compliance with the consent agreement and the regulations,” said Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield. “It is critical that Massachusetts businesses manage their wastes in a manner that does not present an increased risk to the health and safety of the public or first responders.” 

MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources. For more information regarding the MassDEP and its mission, please visit the agency’s webpage.

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