TRAIN SAFETY: Series of hearings on accident response, training

TRAIN SAFETY: Series of hearings on accident response, training

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Rep. Walz meets with first responders Rep. Walz meets with first responders
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

The Minnesota Capitol saw a series of hearings that addressed potential freight disasters and response plans on Wednesday.

Hundreds of rail cars carrying flammable crude oil from North Dakota pass through Minnesota each day, and with recent derailment disasters in the news, the increased traffic is being met with an increase in concern.

MORE: Explosive oil trains

The Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates that between 6 and 8 trains from the Bakken oil fields make their way across Minnesota tracks each day, and lawmakers want to ensure they do so safely.

FIRE FIGHTER TRAINING

Rep. Frank Hornstein's bill was on the docket Wednesday morning, and it would create a grant program to help train fire departments on how to handle an oil car disaster.

The bill would provide $2.5 million this year from the general fund and then set up a $5 million per year fee on railroads and pipeline companies doing business in the state to sustain the grant program.

The grants could also be used by rural communities to purchase specialized response equipment.

"There is a very specific type of foam that you need to put out these fires," Hornstein said. "Railroads have it, we have it at airports, but we don't really have a lot of it in our communities adjacent to where these trains and pipelines are going through."

FREIGHT RAIL SHIPPING SAFETY

The House Environment Committee will hear another bill requiring new railroad and pipeline companies in the state to have a response plan for oil delivery disasters.

Rep. Tim Walz held a meeting at 1 p.m. after hearing from the League of Minnesota Cities, and he made it clear he is concerned about the potential danger. 

"My thing is: I don't want to see Royalton or Winona added to the names like Cassleton," Walz said.

A fiery oil derailment in Cassleton, ND, led to the evacuation of 2,300 people last year. Now, Walz hopes railroads will collaborate with cities to plan for the worst, if it ever should happen.

Big Lake is one Minnesota city that is already trying to plan ahead just in case an oil train -- which rolls through nearly every day -- comes off the rails.

"We have a huge stake in what takes place just on the volume of trains the speed at which they come through our community and the amount of city we have adjacent to the tracks," Big Lake Police Chief Joel Scharf said.

Read more: Oil train disaster concerns take stage at Capitol

Walz also believes the federal government has a stake in rail safety -- and a role to play. 

"That [role] may be requiring new tank cars. The 111's are outdated; they're singled hulled. It doesn't seem like that that's the way to go, and it seems like's there's quite a bit of consensus moving in the right direction," he said.

The Burlington Northern Railroad is already heading in that direction themselves. Just a few weeks ago, the railroad announced it would purchase 5,000 new, double-hulled oil cars while working proactively with local governments.

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