Repost from The West Central Tribune, Willmar, MN
[Editor: Quote: “‘It is sheer dumb luck’ that no major oil train issues have occurred in Minnesota, Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Dibble said.” See also this MPR report, which includes a map of major rail lines in Minnesota. – RS]
326,170 Minnesotans live near oil train tracksBy Don Davis, Forum News Service, March 19, 2015 11:56 a.m.
ST. PAUL — State officials estimate that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks that carry crude oil, a distance often known as the danger zone.
People within a half mile of tracks usually will be evacuated if an oil train could explode or catch fire after a derailment.
The estimate, released this morning after state officials could not answer a Forum News Service question about the issue last week, is the first time Minnesotans had an idea about the number of people that state transportation and public safety officials say could be in danger of oil train explosions like those seen elsewhere in the United States and Canada.
“This data provides a greater emphasis on the need for a strong rail safety program,” Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said. “If trains derail and an emergency occurs, many lives could be in danger.”
Zelle’s department did not immediately release data showing how many in any specific geographic area live in the danger zone.
State funds were appropriated last year to begin improving firefighter and other public safety workers’ training in dealing with crude oil explosions and spills.
“It is sheer dumb luck” that no major oil train issues have occurred in Minnesota, Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said.
Democrats are pushing for more oil train safety training money this year, as well as railroad crossing improvements, funded by increasing assessment on the state’s largest railroads, taxing more railroad property and borrowing money.
Crude oil trains travel on 700 miles of Minnesota tracks, carrying oil that originates in western North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield. Oil trains are destined for the East and Gulf coasts.
Most oil trains enter Minnesota in Moorhead and travel through the Twin Cities, although some come into Minnesota and head south through the Willmar area.
State transportation officials say each train carries about 3.3 million gallons of oil.
Most of Gov. Mark Dayton’s rail safety plan deals with improving railroad crossings, including adding overpasses and underpasses at crossings in Moorhead, Willmar, Prairie Island Indian Community and Coon Rapids. More than 70 other crossings also would be improved under the Dayton plan.
“Improved crossings will mean fewer chances for train and wheeled vehicles crashes, which will mean less likelihood of derailments,” Zelle said. “If an incident does occur, well-trained emergency personnel will be better able to protect the citizens and communities that lie along rail lines.”
None of the recent oil train explosions have occurred at road crossings. Five oil trains have derailed and caught fire in the past six weeks.
A Quebec train carrying North Dakota crude exploded in 2013, killing 47. A nonfatal derailment and fire near Casselton, N.D., brought the issue closer to home late that year.
The governor also proposes adding an oil train response training facility at the National Guard’s Camp Ripley.