WESTFORD -- The town manager is asking Westford's state and federal representatives to intervene in its broken relationship with Pan Am Railways and "protect our residents and public water supply."
On Feb. 19 about 11 p.m., five Pan Am cars slipped off the track in the Graniteville neighborhood. Two of the cars were carrying liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, a chemical that comes with a risk for explosion.
Town Manager Jodi Ross sent letters on Friday to U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, state Sen. Eileen Donoghue and state Rep. James Arciero.
"Numerous attempts have been made by our town officials over the past several years to address with Pan Am our public health, public safety and environmental concerns regarding this ongoing issue, and there has been no improvement," Ross wrote to each legislator.
Pan Am trains travel through Westford daily, crossing several miles of its aquifer, and are left idling next to the aquifer in a residential area.
"What can be done to help us receive better communication from Pan Am, and force them to take appropriate safety precautions to protect our residents and our aquifer? Please let me know how you may assist us as we seek to protect our residents and public water supply from any future occurrences," she wrote at the end of the two-page letter.
Ross has publicly criticized Pan Am since the derailment, saying the town was not notified. At 9:30 a.m. the following morning, Fire Chief Joe Targ drove by and saw rail police on the track.
"The selectmen, our emergency management team and I feel the inaction of Pan Am following this train derailment is irresponsible and unacceptable, particularly in view of the potential for a hazardous materials release or another catastrophic event," Ross wrote to the representatives.
"We are extremely concerned that Pan Am officials evidently feel they can conduct their business quite independently, with few apparent controls, accountability or consequences for their inactions," she continued.
The cars were teetering on the edge over an overpass at Bridge and North Main streets. Ross said she and some town officials walked onto the track to try to find a manager that morning, and were threatened with arrest by Pan Am employees who said they were trespassing.
Pan Am Vice President Cynthia Scarano has told The Sun she would have called the town had it been an urgent matter, and said that she even needs an escort to walk on tracks. Scarano stressed that no one was in any danger after the derailment, but Ross thinks otherwise.
She sent Westford police knocking on residents' doors to warn of a possible evacuation if materials leaked. She also set up shelter areas. The state Department of Environmental Services and the Environmental Protection Agency were also called to the scene to provide oversight.
At a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, Ross said one neighbor of the Pan Am site voiced his concerns with the train site. Neighbors in the area complained shortly after the derailment that Pan Am often parks its cars on the tracks near houses and the Stony Brook aquifer with engines idling.
Scarano confirmed that there is a "holding track" near that area where some cars will pull off to the side and wait for others to pass, but she stressed that Pan Am closely follows all safety regulations laid out by the Federal Railroad Administration.
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