Target 11 investigates new Marcellus Shale Rail Line

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PITTSBURGH - Brian Cornali and his wife moved to rural Mount Pleasant Township in Washington County for the peace and quiet. Now, a decade later, their tranquility has been shattered by the sound of screeching train wheels and whistles.

Cornali told Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle that he never imagined that a train would be running right through the middle of his 53 acres.

With the Marcellus Shale gas boom, Markwest built a 4 1/2 mile rail line to haul liquid natural gases, including propane and butane from its Houston processing plant to locations all over the country.

Years ago a rail line that carried coal through the area, but that was pulled up quite a while back. The rail right of way was overgrown with trees, weeds and brush. Some residents said they didn't know there was ever a railroad in that location.

Two years ago, Markwest told residents they planned to resurrect the old rail line.

The first trains began running on the a couple months ago. Residents said they were told the trains would run during the day, but they said they came in the middle of the night, startling them out of bed.

Ralph and Barb Battista live less than 50 feet from the new rail line. They moved here when the old coal line operated, but they said it wasn't as loud.

Earle asked them to describe life with the trains running.

"Noisy. I can't sleep at night, and they blow that horn five times," said Barb Battista, who captured the late night excursion with her home video camera.

"I just wish they had would have come to me and been a little more sympathetic with me too. I live here. You don't," Ralph Battista told Target 11.

Neighbors said their calls for help went unanswered.

"I've made calls about trains running through the middle of the night, and those weren't returned in most cases," said Cornali. <

After hearing complaints from neighbors, Target 11 Investigator Earle contacted Markwest. They immediately made changes to the train schedules.

"We heard the same complaints you did, and we did respond to get the times corrected," said Markwest spokesman Robert McHale.

McHale told Target 11 that neighbors didn't voice too many concerns when they first told them about the new rail line. And McHale says that Markwest has worked with many neighbors to make the transition easier. Markwest has replaced trees, built retaining walls, and provided dirt to residents.

But some neighbors have expressed other, potentially more serious concerns.

"There could be a little crack or something and friction, and kaput, I'm gone," said Barb Battista.

"It's concerning, just the uncertainty of what's moving through here and what could happen if, you know, something unforeseen like that happens," said Cornali.

Target 11 found out that just last week, a garbage truck hit a train trestle about five miles away in Cecil Township, knocking the tracks out of line. The conductor who was hauling gas from the Markwest plant spotted the problem and stopped the train before anything happened.

A Markwest spokesman said he was aware of the incident, and he defended the safety of rail transportation. He said Markwest has worked with the local fire departments and the Washington County Emergency Management Agency to develop an emergency response plan.

"We have first responders that are within 20 minutes away. We have double redundancy on that, and in fact, we spent over $600,000 on safety upgrades and regulations that were not required by law," said McHale.

Still neighbors said the damage has already been done.

"They don't have a train coming through their property for the rest of their lives and for their kids, and their grandchildren. That's what my grandchildren are going to get: a train. I'm a little sour over the whole thing," said Cornali.

"My place is worth really nothing. I got tankers in front on the road. I got tankers in the back of me. Nobody is going to want to buy it with a track, and they're hauling propane, and it's noisy," said Barb Battista.