GRAFTON, Mass. — Grafton & Upton Railroad plans to build a propane transfer terminal off Westborough Road in North Grafton, the railroad's owner said during a special meeting Tuesday night with 200 neighbors with abutting properties.
The neighbors, in turn, expressed anger and frustration about months of ongoing preliminary construction with almost no communication or local oversight.
The plan is to build four tankers, each capable of holding 80,000 gallons of propane, said Jon Delli Priscoli, owner of the rail line. Trains would unload the fuel into the tanks, and the propane would then be reloaded into tractor-trailer trucks for delivery to a final destination.
A man, who said he has been driving tractor-trailer trucks for 18 years, shouted from the crowd that he was worried about idling trucks near the propane tanks. “How many time bombs will be on site?” he said to a round of applause.
State Sen. Michael Moore, the Board of Selectmen and a large group of state and federal officers attended the meeting in the Municipal Center gym.
But while most businesses have to go through local oversight and town meetings before a shovel hits the dirt, railroads are different. They are privately owned but regulated by the federal government, giving the town little say because a railroad project is usually exempt from local laws. Federal regulations were designed this way so commerce can flow from one end of the country to the other.
“Laws are drafted in favor of railroads,” said Brian O’Boyle , a section chief with the federal Surface Transportation Board. “I won’t sugarcoat it. You have an uphill battle.”
Propane, a locally produced, alternative fuel, is becoming more popular. But it is also volatile if not handled properly and is prone to explosions and fire.
Many layers of federal agencies, including the Federal Railway Administration, fire safety officers and the Environmental Protection Agency, play a role in the process, Delli Priscolli said.
He and his consultant, Thomas Godfrey, said no corner will be cut to ensure the site is safe and that modern technology helps reduce catastrophe from human error. “This is a bulletproof system,” Delli Priscoli said.
He also said he wants to be transparent and work closely with his neighbors so they can be comfortable with the business.
Many residents were not convinced. One resident said his insurance carrier would drop him because of the project. “I’ll have to pay twice as much premium,” he said if he ends up signing with a state-mandated plan.
Dennis Flynn, who has lived in town for over 60 years, said this was more than a ‘not in my backyard issue’, but a town and community issue. “I have grandkids who go to school nearby,” he said. He also pointed out that a recent natural gas explosion in Springfield was due to human error.