Friday, March 21, 2014

Getting On Board with Freight Rail Safety

Photos: Officials from the cities of Wayzata, Big Lake, Glyndon, Winona, and staff from the League of Minnesota Cities met with Congressman Tim Walz (top right) and other rail safety stakeholders this week. 

Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) met with city officials and other stakeholders on Wednesday at the League of Minnesota Cities to talk about freight rail shipping safety and what cities need to better prepare for rail-related disasters.

While only a small fraction of freight rail travel each year is impacted by failures such as leaks, explosions and derailments, the impact of these incidents can be catastrophic—think of the Quebec derailment that killed 47 people last year.

Recent headlines regarding spills of dangerous chemicals and derailments have clustered in the northern US and Canada. A boom in the oil industry has in part driven an increase in regional freight rail traffic, said Walz. And while freight rail use has gone up, things like inspections and equipment upgrades may not have kept pace.

City officials at the hearing voiced a need for communication and coordination of training opportunities for local police and fire—those who would be first on the scene of a derailment, fire, or spill. They also stressed that the average city does not have the resources such as compressed air foam to fight a large oil fire for more than a few minutes.

Just getting the range of perspectives present into the same room was a big deal. State, city and rail industry representatives all thanked Walz and each other for the opportunity to work together.
Walz said that action taken in Minnesota could ultimately influence policy on a federal level—meaning that the feedback provided by Minnesota cities today could result in better safety policies and procedures for all U.S. cities in the future. All aboard? Thought so.

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