Grafton & Upton Railroad Plans Propane Transfer Terminal

  • Comments (17)
Jon Delli Priscoli, owner of the Grafton & Upton Railroad, speaks at Tuesday night's meeting.
Jon Delli Priscoli, owner of the Grafton & Upton Railroad, speaks at Tuesday night's meeting. Photo Credit: Richard Price
Grafton resident Jim Gallagher speaks during the question-and-answer session of the meeting.
Grafton resident Jim Gallagher speaks during the question-and-answer session of the meeting. Photo Credit: Richard Price
These are the plans for the new propane terminal in Grafton.
These are the plans for the new propane terminal in Grafton. Photo Credit: Richard Price

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.

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Comments (17)

AButting land owners, let him know who you are. He's stealing your property rights as property owners. If you lose your insurance, you're violating your mortages.
And you dont have to go far to find an incident in one of these facilities. Millbury had a catastrophic LP gas fire in 1972 on RT 146. It came a whisker from taking out everything west of Rt 146 on the west side of MIllbury.

>>>Another thing to realize is the Northbridge facility IS NOT owned by the railroad, but by Osterman's, who was asked to cover the storage tanks underground for safety when the initial plans were being made, prior to construction. In our case, we're being forced to accept it by the RAILROAD mogel, who doesn't care whose feet he steps on.

crosswire, I accept your point about the ownership of the Osterman's facility. This IS a polarized issue and facts ARE important. I appreciate the correction.

I think there's the initial shock of a propane storage facility "coming to a quiet backyard near you". However, when I think about it more, It seems that this probably can be done safely. I'm more concerned with the impacts to home values, roadway infrastructure, environment, noise pollution, light pollution, security, and attractive nuisance potential.
Our town has an asset that has been largely dormant for awhile, and this is our chance to work in cooperation with the G&U to bring some new life to our industry/commerce while still being careful to ensure that our needs as a town are met. We shouldn't just let the RR have free reign, but we also want them to continue to feel welcome within certain limits.
The G&U has been here for 139 years, and it is as much a part of the town as Washington Mills or Wyman Gordon.
I would like to think that we can make this work as a net win for everyone... I think it will just take some careful planning, communication, and negotiation(perhaps?).

...that said... I would not be happy if I lived right next to this, and I hope that the railroad becomes thoroughly engaged with all the abutters (hopefully offering compensation/mitigation?).

I read all the negative comments about natural gas and propane and how dangerous they are so I *am sure* that nobody here complaining about this unloading terminal ever uses any said gases in their homes.

Of course not :-)

The reality is that many people use propane or natural gas, but want facilities for handling these products in somebody ELSE'S town.


As a very-near neighbor to the G&U North Grafton railroad yard, I of course, always keep my eye/ears open as regard to the activity there. I visited the Osterman propane transfer facilty in Northbridge ( off of Church St. ) and they seem to have a very similiar, 4-tank rack in use there. Very clean & neat. Same housing demography and right next to the railroad. Since the rack construction is similiar, I would assume that there are standard rules that a company must follow when building this type of facility... And now, at this early stage of construction on the G&U, it looks to me like they are adhering to the industry standards.

This should come as no surprise. Even Kay Whynot was talking about this subject last Winter/Spring. A Selectmen even made note that the town has some jurisdiction over public safety issues, even if it is a railroad.
I feel bad for the neighbors, but attending a railroad information meeting is waaay too late to be proactive.

4 storage tanks @ 80,000 gal each =320,000 gal
peak season of usage dec-feb 10 tank cars on site at one time for offloading
each car holding 80.000 gal = 800,000 gal

Over 1 Million gal in a residencial neighborhood does not seem safe.
If 1 car blew up, how far would it hurl the others.

"and is prone to explosions and fire."

Understatement of the year.

On the issue of trucks idling near propane tanks, it's a known fact that when propane trucks make deliveries to homes and business's the truck engine is still kept running to power the pump/compressor for delivery. And there are multiple safety interlocks to prevent leakage of propane. For that matter oil delivery trucks also are running while delivering home heating oil.

Suburban Propane has an unloading facility in the City of Marlboro and last time I recall, receives several tank cars per week, with no problems.


Wow...another disturbance in the Force. This time I am going to thank Senator Moore for pulling this meeting together and bringing in the STB and EPA folks.
Next, it is clear that the STB sent a good person, but his agency is responsible for financial regulation, not safety regulation. We needed someone from the STB who monitors safety issues.
Also, the EPA person indicated that we have to go to her, rather than the EPA coming out to us. Curious, especially in light of what the EPA is mandating concerning the Blackstone River. Anyway, the EPA is now aware of the planned liquid propane terminal. It is now an action item for the BoS and TA to engage with the EPA. Ideally, site work would stop so the Feds can engage. But, the G&U insisted they will not stop.
It is good that the G&U railroad hired a consultant with expertise in this area. However, the consultant works for the railroad, NOT for Grafton. We need the EPA to step up here and ensure the safety of the installation, and the safety of the drinking water. Also, the railroad offered to pay for a Grafton consultant. That is good, but we still need the Feds to do their regulating. That is what we pay them for.

Human error is always a factor. The Springfield explosion...yes a guy punctured a gas line, but was it his fault, or the fault of whoever incorrectly marked the ground, stating that the area he punctured was safe? The trucking company on 30, they had that spill issue, human error. Could there be some combination of errors that could lead to something happening - sure. But then again the gas line going into the house next to the school could develop an issue, that house could explode...there is no way to tell. The best any company can do is have protocols in place to minimize any error, and from what I read here, Mr. Priscolli seems pretty set on not cutting corners, and ensuring the safety of the surrounding area best he can. He is willing to work with neighbors and the neighborhood, maybe give the guy the benefit of the doubt that he will do right here. Maybe instead of being on the defensive, open and keep a dialog with him on issues, so that there aren't issues that surprise us.

For the person who said his insurance carrier would drop him...first, I would be interested to know what policy that person has, and what specifically the insurance company stated, their reasoning in their words. Second...if it was me, I would seek out a new insurance company.

Re: Telegram 12/5/2012>>>>>
And I quote: "Mr. Godfrey said the Grafton and Upton terminal is being built to meet or exceed regulatory safety standards." Before I take you at your word - I want the Town to go through the complete environmental impact statement process, inclusive of the draft EIR, and what I am certain will be a request from the authorities - for the full blown ENF. This proposal is NO JOKE!!! In essence - we are discussing the location of "bombs in our backyard"... Take a look at what happened recently in the national news - a friend just happened to install a gas connection incorrectly to a new water heater, and blew up most of the neighborhood! When Wyman Gordon was under the auspices of the government - turning out products for the war - we had the equivalent of "bombs in our backyard" then, as well...only the nuclear contamination seemingly hidden and buried in pits managed to compromise our water aquifers - the result, cancer rates here in Grafton that are exponential! Grafton was also labeled as a high priority target during the cold war - and now - with the proposed addition of what equates to a facility housing bombs - what the !@#$ are we trying to do to our children???? Absolutely NO WAY, NO !@#$%^& WAY!!!!


I'm nervous about this too, but I looked into the Wyman Gordan thing before moving to town in 2010. The feds conducted an extensive study, and found that cancer rates in the vicinity of Wyman Gordan/North Grafton within the normal range. The radioactive substance behind the factory was mildly radioactive, and the contamination to the watershed was due to a Wyman Gordan chemical spill in the early 1990's, not radioactive waste.

If this thing gets through, we'd better make sure there's good compensation and mitigation for lost property value, increased wear and tear on roads, noise pollution... not to mention any additional fire response equipment and personnel that would be needed. We'll need some good emergency response plans in place, too, I imagine.

May I suggest you ask our public officials to see the new piece of fire safety equipment that was donated to the town of Grafton by the G & U Railroad - the railroad also donated similar equipment to the Upton Fire Department - as verified by their fire chief!

The town should take steps to ensure that if this project goes forwards, that standards are met. As far as calling this "bombs in our backyard"...I mean really?

The story you mention without specifics...a friend just happened to install a gas connection incorrectly...first, I thought if you need to make these connections, you call the gas company, or you hire a qualified plumber, someone who won't botch the connection. So unless this friend was either...which would mean he should have known how to do this, so I suspect he was not...then the issue is human error, but someone who ultimately should have not done this in the first place. This place is not going to have unskilled truck drivers not knowing what they are doing, so that comparison to me seems a bit off the level. What is the difference between this versus say the trucking depot down the street? There are chemicals there...sure some might explode under the right circumstances? Then again, someone from NStar might mark a gas line outside of your house incorrectly, and someone might probe the street to find the leak, and what happened in Springfield could happen to your house. I do not discount people's strong opinions on this, but people need to approach this from a rational point of view, with facts, not propaganda and wild speculation.

If we are going to have to live with this, Mr. Priscoli states there will be no corner cut to ensure safety at the sight. If he wants to work with the town, our BOD should negotiate that we bring in our own independent safety consultant (funded by Mr. Piscoli) to make sure that all the latest technological advances are being implemented. We should put this in a contract with penalties if he does not comply to his own promises.

The BOD should also be concerned with how the traffic will be affected by this business. This should be studied also. If insurance companies are dropping coverage, there should be some discussion for these residents to be compensated for there loss of coverage.