UPDATE: Grafton & Upton Railroad Cease Order Sent To Federal Court

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The propane tanks scheduled for delivery to Grafton.
The propane tanks scheduled for delivery to Grafton. Photo Credit: photo courtesy of the Fall River Herald News
The propane tank loaded for delivery to Grafton.
The propane tank loaded for delivery to Grafton. Photo Credit: photo courtesy of the Fall River Herald News

GRAFTON, Mass.— The question of when the first of four giant propane tanks will be delivered to the Grafton & Upton Railroad remained uncertain Thursday afternoon after the town's request for a restraining order against further construction was sent to federal court.

Worcester Superior Court had issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of the town of Grafton against the Grafton & Upton Railroad, prohibiting the Thursday delivery of a 120 foot long propane tank. The town on Wednesday issued a cease and desist order to the railroad to halt the construction of a propane storage facility at the North Grafton depot, an order which was ignored, the town said.

The case was scheduled for a hearing at Worcester Superior Court Thursday afternoon but Assistant Town Administrator Kevin Mizikar, Building Inspector Robert Berger and Police Chief Normand Crepeau, Jr. said they were surprised to discover on arrival that it had been moved to the federal level. Railroads fall under federal oversight.

"We believe it's a state issue, since we're just talking about enforcement of the cease and desist," Mizikar said.

The status of the case in federal court -- and whether delivery of the tank will be allowed to proceed -- remained in question Thursday afternoon.

According to the Fall River Herald News, the four tanks, which they report as 120 feet long and 34 feet in circumference, are still sitting on a New England Gas Company site in Fall River. 

They also report that the propane tanks have been stored on the gas company’s land for 50 years, but have been unused for the last six due to an increase of natural gas consumption and warmer winters.

LPG Ventures, based in Raytown, Missouri, were hired by the Grafton & Upton Railroad to haul the tanks. The company handled burning off any remaining propane in July.

The tank scheduled Thursday  was the first of four to be delivered to the propane transfer site. The others are still scheduled to be delivered on Dec.18, 19 and 20 accompanied by a state police escort, which is mandated by state law. Whether that will still happen will be determined by the court.

The Herald News also reported that the tank is attached to multiple trailer dollies.  The tractor has 40 wheels, including three sections of a dozen each.

On Wednesday morning, the town of Grafton issued a cease-and-desist order of final delivery of the tank to the Westborough Road site, saying that federal preemption of railroad business has not been proven.

"We are in litigation with the town and have no further comment," Jon Delli Priscoli, the owner of the Grafton & Upton Railroad said Thursday morning.

Attached: The Mass. DOT permit for the propane tank. (giant_propane_tank_transportation_route_and_permit.pdf)

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Comments (30)

You don't have to go very far to see the effects of an lp facility mishap and the resulting damage. The attached link is an article printed by the Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun on October 1, 1971 for an incident that happened right next door if MILLBURY. Initial cause was an accidental inginition of a gas tank being filled on a CAMPER. If you want to see the tank involved in the incident, it's behind the present XTRAMART on Rt 146 just south of the Shops at Blackstone Valley shopping center. The tank involved that day was a peanut compared to the ones being moved to Grafton. To have personally witnessed the 30 feet high escaping flame from the fire impinged tank was one of the most dramatic things I have ever encountered. One you wouldn't want to see in a residential area at any cost.

Harpoon, an interesting propsective you have, if one disagrees with you and states the facts he must have an economic interest in the project. I do not. I have nothing to do with the railroad, propane or anything else.

What I do know is I do research before I write, and state the facts, as I am the seer.

Go do some research before you comment about the stability of vessels, railroad law or anything else.

By the way, I am sick of the town's governement wasting our tax money, and this one is going to cost a bundle.

Also, I was under the impresssion Upton lost, not won. The railroad is transloading wood pellets and other material dowm there.

I guess it is far too much to ask that Harpoon and others who think they know all about what has happened in Upton, Hopedale, and heavens, now at Edaville and Cape Rail, would have even bothered to reference the 182 page report from the Upton Railroad Fact Finding Committee. Come to think of it, apparently some of our Grafton town officials couldn't take the time to read that very same Upton report - it was that kind of thorough research and Upton town attorney's sound advice that helped the Upton Selectmen decide not to bring any legal action against the railroad. Thank you Ishmeal, for being one person who is doing your research and adding to a balanced, truthful discussion

Ishmeal, I was just asking about your facts on the tankers. I spent a lot of time trying to find this info but had no luck. I do not know of anyone who has been in the business and it sounded like you do.

You did not mention anything about the safety of our town. What are we supposed to do, rollover and not say anything? If you have no interest in this business or have a connection to the businessman, than I apologize.

I am not happy with the taxes in this town either. The only info I had was the 20 million dollar defamation lawsuit that the business owner brought against one of the ex - town leaders. I am not sure if it ever went through. The other articles mentioned that Upton did not actually bring a lawsuit against him due to the cost. The link is an editorial regarding this suit.


Our town officials and counsul show up and find that the hearing has been moved - what a brain trust. Can't wait to get the bill from our attorney. Even I know that railroads are goverened by federal law, not state laws, and the railroad has the legal right to have a trans-loading facility on its property. The use the tanks to store it because there is a shortage or rail cars and loading of trucks from stationary tanks is safer than from the
railcars directly.

Concerning the age of the tanks, if you speak to experts in field they will tell you a well maintained tank has an indefinate life as they are extremely thick and propane gas is not corrosive.

Enjoy the legal theatrics Grafton, afterall it is only your tax money they are wasting.

Ishmeal, how many times have you asked experts in the field about these gas tanks? Sounds like you are in the business and you can educate us all. A town has a right to know what is going on in order to protect their people. The businessman was supposed to present a plan before he started work. He did not keep his word. The town needs to verify that he is following all the Fed. permitting process and everything is inspected.

This is why we have councel in town to ensure our protection. If he wants to slap a lawsuit on us, he will lose like he did in Upton and he will need to pay our legal fees and court costs. It sounds like you have an interest in this operation. Why can't you guys be transparent if you are so sure that you have all the law backing you. I am sure the town would not have taken this action if you guys were just up front about things.

Wow. Those tanks are gigantic. 50+ years old. I hope the Feds do their job and inspect the tanks, the site, and all related dox.

There has been no mention of the waterway adjacent to the facility. At one time before the railroad destroyed the farmland there was a creek that ran through the property. Now there is no sign of the creek and the actions by the railroad are likely to be endangering the pond.

Mr. Priscolli claims to be a good neighbor. Would a good neighbor bring a large-volume propane facility into a residential area, thereby driving down property values and driving up insurance costs all while damaging the environment?

Just a bit of ancient history, but......didn't the former Weldex on Old Westboro Rd deal with extensive propane projects & propane storage in my part of town many years ago? ...Can't recall any major issues with that operation.

Go Grafton!

My 20 Lb BBQ propane tanks have an expiration date and I've had to replace them. I think they are certified for 10 years. With that said, I can't believe that 50 year old used propane tanks are safe.

hope the town knows what it is doing. railroads fall under federal regulation. not small town politics. but i am not a lawyer.

hope the town knows what it is doing. railroads fall under federal regulation. not small town politics. but i am not a lawyer.

I STILL maintain that the STORAGE of a total of 320,000 gallons of propane is not specific to RAILWAY activity. Transporting any material via the railway is directly related. Transferring any material from rail cars DIRECTLY to trucks would be a railway activity. But Mr. Priscoli is STORING 320,000 gallons of LPG for an as yet undetermined period of time. At the meeting last week he and his consultant claimed that the "safest way "to transfer the gas from the train cars to truck tankers is via the intermediary storage tanks. I think its probably more economically advantageous for Mr. Priscoli to deal in such large quantities, ie the 320,000 gallons stored onsite.

I apologize in advance if this has been asked before (I did look at the comments in prior related articles, but it is possible I missed it): I am wondering how the law works in execution. Specifically, when one buys a railroad, I presume one gets the materials (train track etc.) and a certain amount of land alongside those tracks. However, does what falls under the railroad’s “right of way” change over time? For example, can the railroad’s owner buy land near the railroad and then declare that this new land is now protected under this law because it is now going to be used by the railroad. Given the size of the tanks, it seems the amount of land to house them must be quite large. Was that land part of the initial purchase?

Yes, if the RR purchases land, it now falls under the RR's jurisdiction.

Such spoiled brats in Grafton. You all rest easy in your fancy town with your handsome homes while the car dealerships, propane/natural gas/coal/gasoline facilities are foisted off on some other town. Many towns around this country would be glad to have renewed life for their commercial/industrial lands. Grafton is full of high tech, finance, and government workers. Well, consider yourselves blessed, but don't become so arrogant, thinking those parts of the economy can go on forever. With the way things are going regarding fossil fuels, global warming, and many other ecological issues, you all may one day be very thankful for railroads as opposed to petroleum-based roadways.

That all said, I cannot imagine that a 50 year old propane tank has much life left in it. I am hoping that it's been ultrasound tested as most large compressed air and fuel tanks are for wall thickness and/or inspected inside for corrosion. (All large propane tanks that I've seen have pressure/inspection hatches.)

Wow, are you off-base. Apparently you've never visited this section of North Grafton. Not too much that's fancy around here, and anything that's "handsome" about our homes has come from a lot of sweat-equity from our homeowners. My own home was built in 1840 (p.s.: before the G&U RR was around). Most homes in this area were built well before WWII. Sure, there are a few in this neighborhood who are well-paid professional workers, but the vast majority of my neighbors are either elderly retirees or trades workers. So I've yet to spot a "spoiled brat" anywhere around here.

I certainly don't disagree with your concerns regarding fossil fuels, global warming, etc. And I am a supporter of rail transport generally. However, the proposed propane transfer facility is the wrong project in the wrong place. Sure, the G&U RR has an existing access point to the CSX line in North Grafton and G&U has some rights to commercially develop that point of access. If the transfer facility were for a commodity such as molasses, I'm sure that there would be minimal opposition.

So let's talk about propane, instead. G&U has argued that there is a benefit to society generally from the facilitation of delivery of propane to a nearby geographic area that may need the propane. That area is not limited to the immediate Grafton area, but may include much of Massachusetts and perhaps other New England states as well.

There is no demonstrated lack of other transfer facilities for the delivery of propane to the planned market. Were there to be such a lack of transfer facilities, I woulld suggest that there are numerous alternatives with access to the CSX line in much less populated areas. Of course, none of those other locations are currently under the control of G&U RR, so they could not derive the financial benefit therefrom.

So many of us love to hear the story about how we can pitch in to save the environment, but let's not be fooled by the G&U propaganda. This is a pure grab of economic benefit for G&U at the expense of the nearby town residents and ultimately at the town's expense.

Spoiled brats - yes, and we pay handsomely for that luxury. If you would care to take this depot and put it next to your house, I'm all for it. Picture this.... you bought a house10 years ago for 500,000 and you knew it was near a school, a park, and a library,....... and a defunct railroad. Now, your kids are in the school, and you find out that 320 - 10,000 gallon above ground pools fillled with gasoline are next door to you.. how would you feel?

Move it to Westboro in an industrial park, cool.... move it down near the commuter rail... awesome, nothing else down there.... but half a mile from 300 seven year olds? really?

Have these tanks been x-ray'd for wall thickness? confined space reg's? and again... building inspector for the footings these tanks will sit on? We're still redneck enough to find something to stop this steamroller, right?

So, the tanks have been out of use for six years and have been sitting for 50. God knows how old they are, if they leak, etc. If it weren't for some conscientious people we would already have this junk in Grafton. Thank you those who stopped this!

You honestly think that all the federal and state agencies involved in this RR development would let the owner bring unsafe propane tanks on site?

Oh you mean the same state and federal agencies that monitored a certain Framingham compounding center so well as to kill like 20 people? It's time to take some responsibility to make sure people are safe, we can't depend on the state to do it for us

I agree - federal and state regulators don't monitor effectively - they assume everything is fine until there's an accident. The state and the feds are only now getting involved in this b/c it's been brought to their attention. Anyway, this isn't a 'railroad development project'. I am all for rail transport (and by the way both me and my husband are business owners, entrepreneurs, what have you, and we support local business, are involved in community projects, etc., not bedroom community people or anti-business).
But the Grafton & Upton RR makes its money buying & selling hazardous waste and STORING it here in Grafton, not by facilitating the transport of goods. And the owner is simply trying to evade regulation so he can make a profit in his business, which many suspect is actually an adjunct of another business in town that produces a lot of hazardous waste, and the loophole being exploited (non-regulation) would hold only if this is a legitimate railroad.
The attitude of G&U RR is that Grafton residents have nothing to say about their business, even though they are endangering the whole town, they're off the hook if there's an accident, and the townies shouldn't be suspicious. I would look closely at this and whether people are getting paid off to let this project happen.

"We believe it's a state issue, since we're just talking about enforcement of the cease and desist"

Clearly, research was not done, as litigation involving Railroads is at a Federal level. Good luck Grafton...

The town should review closely the Hazard Analysis & see how they will comply with requirements. Ask to see list & find out who will be inspecting for compliance.

THere should have been done, a Hazard Analysis. It should contain issues related to leakage, emergency response issues & access, ignition sources, who has access to site & what type of vehicles will be entering & leaving. THere is an NFPA code they have to meet that the Town gov & Emergency folks should have bee sent a copy. If you send it to me on line, I will review just as I have in my local city (no cost for comments)! THe NFPA code has location it should not be with in some many feet! How is B&O powering vehicles that pass, electric of diesel? Are their track inspection or ballast vehicles passing that might cause an ignition source. Also, there are required & prudent monitoring devices for gas leaks. Wind direction indicators for Em Response teams.There are leak prevention devices to prevent a loading truck from running into BIG tanks. A leak is likely to stay near ground ( assume Propane) & flow into track area! THere different types of leak prevention devices that can be added..It needs a meeting with town floks (open) after both sides work out a VERY good prevention of a disaster! More after I know more!

Submitted on December 12, 2012 - 4:17pm. Reply
Thinking the RR & Fire Marshall you keep you fully safe is WRONG! THere are minimum requirements they can inspect for and many more (+$) that will greatly improve the degree of town safety.. A major leak of gas could roll down Worcester St as iot goes from liquid to gas!
Here is one to start with:

Submitted on December 12, 2012 - 4:27pm. Reply
Speaking of lightning, there likely should be some lightning protection for facility!

Submitted on December 12, 2012 - 4:28pm. Reply
I thought the facility was next to the old coal yard (Old Coop store & Sure gas station), at hill top. If not, my comment on Worcester St is bogus!

Submitted on December 12, 2012 - 4:37pm. Edit Reply

Just by the size of the tanks in the photos I can't fathom how the Massachusetts DOT or even the Feds would authorize them over Westboro Rd or Bridge Street... And if you read the permit that was put forth, it doesn't even authorize them to use Bridge Street or Route 30. It has them going over East Street and Institute Road after coming down 140 after turning around at Wyman Gordon's.

Did Mr. Priscoli submit a new DOT permit when he adjusted the route to go over Bridge Street and Rt. 30?

This will be a great sight to see if it does happen.... Definitely get someone to video this for posterity, maybe from the GCTV Studios...

I wonder if the GDV has verified the attachment to the article is the current permit. As noted above the 11/19/12 report from Erics Flagcars is different in the last part from the route in the 12/13/12 Permits Engineer's review, and both differ from what I recall having been reported here recently.

It should be interesting to see that part with backing 1.2 miles down 122 from Wyman-Gordon to Quinsigamond corner - interesting way to handle the turn there.

But also the MassDOT permit seems to say it only applies to routes designated as State Highway. Most likely 122, 140, and 30 fit that, but does the end of the route on Westboro Road (as well as East Street and Institute Road if they are still in the picture)? If not what review and control apply on those roads?

Propane tanks that have been sitting in the salt air for 50 years? Sounds incredibly safe......and if the railroad is such a fantastic way to transport goods, why aren't the tanks being delivered by train? As for the roads, he's only using State roads, with the exception of Westborough Road......I'm not quite understanding why he didn't take Route 20 to 140, then Westborough Road...or even Grafton Street to 140......he must have employed more brain trusts, just like the First Colony boys.....LOL

I hate to keep beating this horse but sticking with the facts I know, these gas tanks have been sitting around at the New England Gas Company since 1963. This must also mean that they were constructed even earlier than this date. I know that there are regs. that require small propane tanks to be replaced every 12 years. I know this is apples and oranges but maybe someone knows about how long these tanks can last. I hope that this column made a mistake in this fact.