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Residents north of Boston call for halt of ethanol rail plan

The red lines on this state map show potential train routes.

The red lines on this state map show potential train routes.

Imagine the outcome if terrorists attacked a freight train transporting a highly flammable fuel, which is difficult to extinguish, through densely populated local communities.

Some local activists fear it could become a reality if Global Partners LP is allowed to transport ethanol to its storage terminal in Revere over MBTA commuter rail lines. They are hoping the state Legislature can stop the plan before it becomes reality.

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“This ethanol train is basically a bomb train. It’s there for anybody” to attack, said Chelsea resident Roseann Bongiovanni, a member of the Chelsea Creek Action Group.

Bongiovanni, who also is associate executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative — a nonprofit that organizes residents around various causes — said she was alarmed by the arrest, days after the Boston Marathon bombings, of two men in Canada who had Al Qaeda support in their plan to derail a passenger train between Montreal and New York.

She fears someone could hatch a similar plot in Revere, where Global Partners plans to transport ethanol by rail to its terminal on Route 1A, alongside Chelsea Creek, and mix the fuel with gasoline to comply with Clean Air Act standards.

Currently, the firm transports ethanol, the type of alcohol also found in intoxicating drinks, up the creek by barge, a method critics say is far safer for residents.

Global Partners executive Edward Faneuil did not respond to calls requesting comment on the rail plan.

The Waltham-based firm was named number 3 in this year’s Globe 100 list of top-performing public companies in Massachusetts.

Whether intentional or accidental, a derailment could be devastating, said East Boston resident John Walkey, who pointed to the 2007 gasoline tanker truck accident in Everett that shot flames down Main Street, and a 2011 tanker truck crash in Saugus that sparked an eight-alarm fire.

Opponents said rail lines Global Partners would use to transport ethanol from the Midwest through Western Massachusetts to Revere pass through about 90 cities and towns in the Commonwealth, where they say about 200,000 residents live within a half-mile of the tracks.

North of Boston, trains would pass through densely populated areas and near important commercial sites and public facilities, opponents said, including the Chelsea Produce Market, one of the largest fruit and vegetable distribution centers in the United States.

Magdalena Ayed, leader of the Maverick Association of Residents, said her 4- and 6-year-old sons attend Manassah E. Bradley Elementary School in East Boston, overlooking the terminal.

“I don’t feel that safe right now, because the storage tanks are so close,” Ayed said, “but add to that the ethanol trains coming into the communities . . . my heart’s going to be in my mouth all day long.”

A state Department of Transportation safety report released March 29 said members of an advisory group worried there is an insufficient local supply of the alcohol-resistant foam required to extinguish an ethanol fire.

The report, mandated by the Legislature, found the proposed route generally safe but recommended maintaining track conditions and improving safety and security measures.

It noted, though, that under federal law, “the Commonwealth and the communities within it do not have the power to require additional security and safety measures of either Global or the railroads.”

The report was the final hurdle delaying the state Department of Environmental Protection from issuing a license that would allow Global to begin improving a fuel unloading facility at the Revere terminal and dividing a rail spur into two tracks for unloading.

The plan’s opponents are pinning their hopes to two amendments attached to the state Senate’s $33.92 billion annual budget proposal.

One amendment, filed May 17 by Senators Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston, Sal DiDomenico of Everett, and Patricia Jehlen of Somerville, would bar the state from issuing licenses to facilities handling ethanol in densely populated communities. The other amendment the three are proposing would require firms handling ethanol to fund training and equipment necessary to fight ethanol fires.

Earlier efforts in the state House of Representatives to attach similar amendments failed. But DiDomenico was cautiously optimistic that the rewritten amendments would produce results.

“We’re very hopeful that we’ll be addressing some of these issues in the budget, and these amendments will help that,” he said.

Petruccelli, lead sponsor on both, could not be reached for comment. But in an interview the day prior to filing, he said he would do everything he could to protect these communities.

Senators were set to begin debating the budget this week before reconciling differences with the House version passed in April and then submitting a compromise for Governor Patrick’s signature.

DiDomenico said the amendments were necessary because ethanol potentially would be “transported within literally feet of people’s homes.”

“I have two boys, and I wouldn’t want this train going by my home,” DiDomenico said. “This is a missile going through our neighborhoods.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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