By BEN COMPAINE
Cambridge, Mass.

This might have been a story about the little train that could. Rather, it’s about the big train that could not.

Global Partners LP GLP +1.33% operates a bulk petroleum storage terminal north of Boston in Revere, on Massachusetts Bay. Global Partners has been bringing in its inventory by barge from the Port of Providence, where it arrives by rail, mostly from the Midwest. Two years ago, Global Partners thought it would be a good idea to also use rail for delivery to the Revere facility, employing existing railroad facilities and allowing the company to reduce costs and increase supply. A coalition of Boston-area activists and local politicians came out in force to oppose it.

Nowhere was the opposition more intense than in Cambridge, a liberal bastion about seven miles southwest of Revere but on another planet from that working-class town. The Global Partners proposal put Cantabrigians, as we’re known, in an exquisite bind of liberal concerns warring with not-in-my-backyard self-interest. Ethanol is an elixir for environmentalists, who in 2007 succeeded in persuading the federal government to mandate the grain-based fuel’s use as an additive to carbon-heavy gasoline. Yet ethanol is also flammable, and Cantabrigians didn’t like the idea of tank cars full of it rolling nearby. The result was a perfect Made in Cambridge kerfuffle.