With serious train derailments having rocked Wisconsin and polluted the environment twice this past weekend, I thought I'd reprint a few paragraphs from a September 9th post which included jaw-dropping facts provided by Jeff Plale, the state railroad commissioner:
I talked Tuesday afternoon with Jeff Plale, Scott Walker's Wisconsin railroad commissioner, to find out if his agency still had but one rail inspector, as was reported earlier this year.
You read that right. One. Permanent. Inspector.
And yes, Plale said, his agency - - the smallest in state government - - in fact has only one permanent, full-time rail inspector, though Plale said he's had a full-time limited term equivalent (LTE) inspector on board for part of the year.
So in an era of vastly increased rail shipments of volatile crude oil, and highly-publicized flaming derailments, this is the official approach:
Wisconsin's smallest agency - - with one permanent, full-time state rail inspector - - is responsible at the state level for about 3,000 miles of track and 4,500 at-grade crossings.
There were 52 train/highway at-grade crashes in Wisconsin last year, resulting in ten fatalities and 17 injuries, plus four train/pedestrian fatalities and two additional injuries, data show.
This minimal commitment of state inspection dollars means that each rail crossing in Wisconsin gets an inspection by Plale's agency about once every five years, he said, while rail transportation of frac sand, oil, shipping containers and other cargo in and out of Wisconsin is rising "exponentially...."
Plale said his agency has stopped "chasing accidents" and is focusing staff attention pro-actively on incident-prone corridors.
And he added that he'd requested a second full-time inspector in the 2015-'17 budget...the position request didn't make it through the legislative process.