Living near railroad tracks? Prepare for crude oil-train accidents, spills

HazmatLiving near railroad tracks? Prepare for crude oil-train accidents, spills

Published 24 March 2015

The Minnesota Department of Transportation(MnDOT) reports that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. An area covering a half mile on each side of the tracks, public safety officials say, is the area from which residents are likely to be evacuated in the event of an oil train incident or explosion. The department urges all residents living near an oil train track to be prepared for a train accident.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) reports that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. An area covering a half mile on each side of the tracks, public safety officials say, is the area from which residents are likely to be evacuated in the event of an oil train incident or explosion. The department urges all residents living near an oil train track to be prepared for a train accident.

“If you live by the train, people need to take some personal awareness of what’s around them,” Kevin Reed of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management department said. ‘“How do I get out of the way before the fire department gets here?’” Residents should plan for how to deal with their loved ones in schools, nursing homes, businesses, and other locations near oil train tracks, Reed said, adding that first responders cannot do everything needed to protect residents when oil train accidents occur.

Last Friday, MnDOT released the number of people in thirty-four counties where Bakken oil trains travel. Hennepin County has the most residents in the danger zone with 59,359 people, followed by 44,967 in adjoining Ramsey County, and Anoka with 41,389 people. Almost half of those affected are in the Twin Cities area.

The Daily Globe reports that most Bakken oil trains come into Minnesota through Moorhead, passing into the Twin Cities, and then south along the Mississippi River. Some oil trains head south to Willmar then out the southwest corner of the state. An average of 6.3 oil trains cross Minnesota daily, mostly on BNSF Railway Co. tracks, according to a new state report.

Derailments of Bakken crude oil trains in the past few years have caused explosions and in the case of a July 2013 derailment in Quebec, Canada, killed forty-seven people.

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton (D) has proposed more training for first responders who may have to deal with oil train derailments, railroad crossing improvements, and other measures, funded by increasing assessments on the state’s largest railroads, taxing more railroad property, and borrowing money. The Republican-controlled state House has yet to announce a plan on how to improve rail safety. Railroads say Dayton’s tax proposals would violate federal law and could be battled in court if passed.

“I’m very disappointed to hear some of the companies are strenuously opposing an increased share of the responsibility for these improvements,” Dayton said Friday after visiting a Newport elementary school, blocks from heavily used rail lines along U.S. 61 in Washington County. “They’re coming through the state in the volume they are and they’re adding (to) their own profitability, which is why they’re in business, but then to just turn their backs on the people who are living in the vicinity and say, ‘Well, now you have to come up with your own resources to make these safety improvements,’ I think is really, really irresponsible.”

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