President Barack Obama may skip Rochester when he tours upstate New York later this month, but at least one influential federal official thinks a visit to the city would be worth his time.
"I'd love him to stop in the Rochester area, because Rochester is showing how a community can make a transition," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Tuesday while visiting the city himself.
Noting that Obama plans to focus on jobs and the economy during his upcoming tour, Schumer said Rochester is an area where small businesses have thrived even as some of the region's larger companies, such as Eastman Kodak Co., have faced challenges.
Schumer earlier this year also pushed a federal bill to bring a high-tech hub for optics and photonics manufacturing to Eastman Business Park.
"Then maybe he could stop at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que," Schumer said of Obama, recalling that the president visited Duff's Famous Wings in Buffalo on a past upstate visit.
Initial reports said Obama has planned stops in Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton and Scranton, Pa., but not Rochester. Schumer, a Democrat, said he had not seen an itinerary for Obama's New York trip and does not know exactly where he will head.
Before speaking at a press event with Schumer, Mayor Thomas Richards also said if the president would visit Rochester, he could see federal programs that he supports at work. For example, Richards said the city has made good use of federal Community Development Block Grants and money for housing, both of which have faced cuts from Congress.
"We have good examples of those kinds of programs all over town," Richards said.
The mayor said he believes the president probably is skipping the city only because of time constraints.
"I don't take affront from it," Richards said.
Schumer was in Rochester to call for an end to the use of dated freight rail cars to carry crude oil and ethanol through the region.
His office said the main track through Rochester carries one or two oil trains across the city every day, each with about 100 DOT-111 tank cars, and one ethanol train with 81 cars. This type of tanker has proven vulnerable to spills, explosions and other hazards, Schumer said.
Train traffic carrying fuel oil has picked up in Rochester over the past year or so as U.S. oil production has increased, Schumer's office said. Until a year or two ago, only about a dozen ethanol cars traveled through the city.
Nationally, the number of crude oil carloads has tripled since 2009, and about 70 percent of the cars that transport oil and ethanol in the U.S. are DOT-111 tankers, Schumer's office said.
The same kind of tank car was involved in a July derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that left 47 people dead or missing. The National Transportation Safety Board also cited the design of such cars as a major factor in a 2009 ethanol train derailment in Cherry Valley, Ill., where tank cars ruptured and caught fire.
With even more shipments of crude oil expected, Schumer said he is calling on the Federal Railroad Administration to require oil companies to retrofit such tank cars at an estimated cost of $15,000 a piece to make them safer or phase them out in favor of thicker, pressurized cars.
"They can spend a little money to make us safe," Schumer said, standing in front of a passing freight train at the CSX rail yard off North Goodman Street. Companies also could simply stop using such cars to carry fuels and use them for less hazardous materials, such as corn oil, he said.
The Rochester Fire Department has a hazardous materials team ready to deal with a train derailment, but major damage could happen no matter how prepared the city is, Richards said.
"If something were to happen here, it would be devastating," he said. "This is not a minor problem for the city -- it is a significant one."
Schumer stressed that derailments are rare, but Richards noted that a train jumped the tracks in the city's Charlotte neighborhood in 2001. Tankers containing methylene chloride and acetone caught fire.
The senator said he had met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who is considering his request. The Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline Hazardous Materials Administration have planned meetings in Washington, D.C., later this month to discuss safety improvements for DOT-111 tankers.
Freight company CSX, which owns the train tracks, provided a fact sheet that said it does not own the tank cars in question, but that all those in operation meet federal requirements. About half the DOT-111 cars used to move crude oil today were built to tougher industry standards set in 2011, the fact sheet said.
CSX also said nearly all rail cars carrying hazardous material arrive at their destinations safely.
Train traffic carrying fuel oil has picked up in Rochester over the past year or so as U.S. oil production has increased, Schumer's office said. [...]a year or two ago, only about a dozen ethanol cars traveled through the city.