Tuesday, November 10, 2015

WI freight rail operations need immediate review

If back-to-back train derailments in Wisconsin involving tanker cars loaded with crude oil and ethanol don't sound the alarm, and you know these trains move all the time over major waterways and through heavily-populated neighborhoods, I suppose nothing will. But with so much at stake, is luck the way you make public policy? 

The best news coming out of the two Wisconsin derailments - - though the environmental impact of spilling 20,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River is unclear right now - - is that there were no resulting fires, injuries or deaths, as have happened in other high-profile derailments.

But that stroke of good fortune means that the National Transportation Safety Board and its experts will likely not get involved in investigations that could produce a bigger picture conclusion and trigger recommendations and remedial actions.

A separate agency, the Federal Railway Administration, is reportedly at the scenes, and will do a good job, as will local investigators.

To date, I see little-to-nothing in response from the state, though a systematic review of freight rail track, operations and their public safety implications in Wisconsin would certainly be timely.

And regardless of the federal activity, a state initiative could include, at a minimum, the input of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, the Wisconsin State Patrol and various local law enforcement, medical services, and emergency responders, given the bullets dodged here and this data gathered by AP: 
Accidents involving shipments of hazardous fuels by rail have spiked over the past decade, corresponding with a sharp rise in the production of ethanol from the Midwest and oil from the Bakken crude region of North Dakota and Montana.
With the Wisconsin accidents, at least 26 oil trains and 11 ethanol trains have been involved in major fires, derailments or spills during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press tally from data kept by transportation agencies and safety investigators. 
The most devastating, in July 2013, killed 47 people and destroyed much of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when an unmanned, out-of-control train hauling Bakken oil crashed and exploded.
Unless the state thinks there's no room for improvement, where's the leadership to get that done?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of many disasters-in-waiting for Wisconsin due to the Scott Walker/GOP Tea stranglehold in this state. Secrecy surrounds railway safety measures being taken, if any. Wisconsin's resources are being batted around like a pinball, FOR PROFIT, to the highest bidders.

These train crashes inflict damage to individuals, the environment, communities and emergency response resources. Responders are under-funded, staffed, and trained. They are first on the scene and with inadequate protections. They are denied railway information that could be useful in saving lives and nature. (It goes like this: "We can't give away our profit secrets.")

In addition to the rail shipments, Wisconsin has pipeline 61 running the length of the state. Purported to carry THREE-TIMES as many daily gallons of oil than was projected for the Keystone pipeline. INEVITABLE problems with line 61 will damage most water resources in a huge chunk of Wisconsin. Few waters will go untouched - it crosses under, over, through so many areas.

All of this is a disgrace. Nothing is being done to protect us from damaging fossil fuels. In fact all legislative efforts SUPPORT more use and damage. (Ask Tom Tiffany)

Yet laws PUNISHING wind and solar energy use pass through the statehouse with little regard to the future.