Final Arguments In Grafton & Upton Railroad Case Set

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Final arguments in the Grafton & Upton Railroad case will be heard Feb. 11.
Final arguments in the Grafton & Upton Railroad case will be heard Feb. 11. Photo Credit: Jennifer Lord Paluzzi (file photo)

WORCESTER, Mass. – Do the Grafton & Upton Railroad's plans to build a propane transfer terminal fall under federal pre-emption rights? Final arguments in the matter will be heard Feb. 11 after attorneys for the town of Grafton and the railroad rested their cases Friday in U.S. District Court.

Judge Timothy S. Hillman will then decide whether railroad owner Jon Delli Priscoli’s plans for the Westborough Road facility fall under federal pre-emption rights, which would remove the operation from local and state oversight.

"When I make my decision, it doesn't mean it's going to go away," Hillman cautioned both sides. Should Hillman decide the propane transfer terminal is not included in federal pre-emption, the matter then returns to Worcester Superior Court.

In December, the town issued a cease-and-desist against the railroad after Delli Priscoli revealed plans to construct the terminal and import four 120-foot, 80,000-gallon propane tanks. Propane, brought in by the nearby CSX rail line, would be stored and off-loaded on the property.

In testimony Friday, John Holstein, vice president of operations for Spicer Gas, said the company's Groton, Conn., facility, like the one planned for Grafton, required a filing with the Department of Homeland Security. Any storage of more than 10,000 gallons of propane falls under that requirement.

Spicer contacted CSX about an additional facility back in 2010, a communication that eventually got the company in touch with the Grafton & Upton Railroad. He called the planned operation in Grafton an "open facility" because it would have clients in addition to his company.

Spicer also described the "blue flag" warning procedure required when a railroad car carrying propane or other hazardous materials enters a train yard. The blue flag prohibits the operation of trains on a track where it is displayed, preventing potential accidents.

Asked the number of transfers to tankers expected daily, Holstein said the "top range" is up to 30.

Both sides now have until Jan. 30 to submit their full cases to Hillman before returning to court on Feb. 11 for final arguments. Hillman said he would probably not opt for a visit to the site himself, wryly noting that he has avoided site visits since ruling on a pig farm in Princeton several years ago.

As the town closed its case in court, U.S. Rep. James McGovern met with Town Administrator Timothy McInerney to discuss the matter.

"I don't think those propane tanks should be located in a residential neighborhood," McGovern said. "I'm going to do what I can to work with state and federal officials to keep it from happening."

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Comments (11)

Wow. Mr. McGovern has engaged. I wonder what added value he will bring to this situation at this point I guess every little bit helps, eh?

I get the impression "open facility as being able to sell propane to anybody, not just clients of Spicer. Sort of like a gas station selling gas to anyone.

Blue flag is simply a blue warning sign fastened to the tracks to show that track is occupied. They also install a "D-rail" which prevents cars from leaving that track, i.e. a lockdown device.


let's discuss this further over coffee on monday at bushel 'n peck. grand opening at 8am!!

Jim McGovern is a shining example of what is wrong with Washington.

Jim McGovern is exactly the person I voted for. He listens to his constituency and represents their interests sincerely. Kudos to Rep. McGovern for pointing out that this extremely hazardous project has no place in a residential neighborhood.

Regardless of the outcome of the Federal Court case, Congress should address how broadly the railroad "Federal preemption" provision should apply in such cases. This provision was enacted in the early days of the railroads, and its intentions are now somewhat antiquated. In this particular case, the "preemption" argument is being used to re-purpose land that was recently acquired by G&URR that has historically been zoned "residential" by the local town authority.

I don't think that a requirement to comply with town zoning laws presents any impediment to Mr. Priscoli's ability to operate his "short-line railroad".


Good for you Chuck D. And I suppose you voted for the Gov too, who ran on the platform of no broad base tax increases, yet is killing the middle class in the Commonwealth while he goes home to his Milton mansion every evening and then takes a police escort to his Western Mass mansion on the weekend.

Well since mr Delli priscoli already also owns two homes and multiple businesses, it should seem only fair that he also live in the house on west borough street as well, so when the whole thing blows up because he apparently has to obey no rules, then he can be the first to go up with his big plans to invade a residential place.
Oh and just for kicks, check out his interview on fox 25 regarding the edaville railroad venture, and how much he cares about families. Just a reminder, the north Grafton elementary school is in the calculated blast zone when one of those 50 year old tanks gives way and explodes. Yep, that's caring about families.......

A propane company leases a location from the railroad company for $millions of dollars. And then claims that it is an "open" terminal. That does not make business sense.
Thus, I believe it is not a realistic statement.

I corrected it to James. Thanks Nate!

No problem :) I've enjoyed the daily coverage of this event. Thanks and keep up the great journalism Jen!

Just a clarification... did you mean Jim McGovern or George Peterson? If neither then I'd say we should call the Ghost Hunters to investigate the District Court! ha

George Stanley McGovern (July 19, 1922 – October 21, 2012) was an American historian, author and U.S. Representative.