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Amtrak Agrees to Improve Company-Wide Environmental Compliance and Fund Environmental Projects Under Clean Water Act Settlement with EPA

Release Date: 06/28/2001
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, Press Office (617) 918-1008 Samantha Martin, U.S. Attorney's Press Office (617) 748-3139

BOSTON – The US Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department today announced that Amtrak, the nation's largest passenger rail operator, has signed an agreement to carry out environmental audits of 51 facilities across the country and undertake other environmental improvements, including projects to restore coastal wetlands and reduce PCBs in locomotive transformers.

The agreement settles claims that Amtrak violated numerous requirements of the Clean Water Act, including failure to develop and implement appropriate storm water controls at nine Amtrak sites in New England. The company is paying $1.4 million to resolve the enforcement action – $500,000 in penalties and $900,000 in supplemental environmental projects in New England.

"This Amtrak settlement is a good example of industry and government working together to achieve a high level of environmental compliance," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "I commend Amtrak for its cooperation in this settlement and for the aggressive steps it has taken to correct the environmental deficiencies in its operations."

The settlement stems from environmental violations discovered by EPA in the late 1990s at nine Amtrak facilities in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Amtrak was specifically cited for violations of the Clean Water Act, many involving storm water-related issues. Storm water discharges from rail maintenance facilities can carry oil, grease and metals into storm drains, ultimately compromising the health and quality of streams and waterways.

The settlement, filed as a consent decree in US District Court in Boston, requires Amtrak to undertake comprehensive environmental compliance audits at 51 of its facilities nationwide and to voluntarily disclose and correct environmental problems that are discovered. The audits already are underway and must be completed by fall 2003.

Amtrak has also begun to implement a company-wide environmental management system at a cost anticipated to exceed $11 million. The program includes the development of an environmental audit program, a company-wide environmental information system, enhanced environmental compliance training and increased environmental compliance staffing. Amtrak has already created 27 additional environmental positions – a three-fold increase from previous staffing levels when the violations were first discovered.

The settlement also requires Amtrak to implement a supplemental environmental project by spending about $400,000 to improve tidal flows at seven culvert locations along Amtrak's shoreline rail route between Branford and Stonington, Conn. The work, which will include excavating creek channels, removing obstructions, and repairing and upgrading culverts, is expected to benefit coastal wetlands by improving tidal flushing. Many of those wetlands have been compromised over the years by a lack of tidal flushing. Construction work is to begin within 60 days and is to be completed by October 2002.

And, lastly, Amtrak has also agreed to spend about $500,000 to retrofill 13 locomotive transformers to dramatically reduce the concentrations of PCBs. The work – aimed at reducing PCBs in the environment and, in particular, minimizing the potential environmental impact from a rail mishap or spill – will result in the transformers having PCB concentrations up to 20 times lower than the 1,000 parts per million allowed under federal law.

The violations that EPA discovered during its site inspections include:

    • Failure to have required storm water permits and pollution prevention plans.
    • Failure to have required spill prevention and countermeasure control plans.
    • Failure to sample its effluent in accordance with the discharge permit requirements.
    • Violations of discharge permit effluent limitations.
    • Failure to have a discharge permit from the Narragansett Bay Commission in Rhode Island.
U.S. Attorney James B. Farmer noted that while the violations were widespread, Amtrak has shown a strong willingness to correct the problems. "The violations stemmed from institutional problems – inadequate resources dedicated to environmental compliance, deficiencies in training programs and lack of clear lines of authority," he said.

"Assuming that the company continues to follow through on its commitments," added Ira Leighton, EPA New England's Acting Regional Administrator, "Amtrak could well become a leader in the railroad industry for environmental compliance and stewardship."

Today's case is the second major national settlement involving storm water violations. On June 7, the federal government reached an environmental agreement with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to resolve claims that the retailer violated storm water requirements at 17 locations across the country. EPA has identified storm water runoff as a leading cause of impaired water quality all across the country.

The case against Amtrak was handled by Edith Goldman, EPA Senior Enforcement Counsel, and Assistant U.S. Attorney George B. Henderson in Farmer's Civil Division.