Citizen group demands action after recent rail explosions

In the wake of five rail explosions in five weeks, Citizens Acting for Rail Safety-Twin Cities (CARS-Twin Cities), a newly formed citizen-action group, is asking that Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Canadian Pacific (CP) and Union Pacific (UP) railroads halt the transportation of oil by rail.

The group has also called on state and federal leaders to put a hold on 36 proposed rail-expansion projects until a regional environmental study can be completed and recent accidents are thoroughly investigated.

According to a December 2014 Minnesota Department of Transportation report, 50 to 70 percent of oil pumped from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields travels through the heavily populated communities of the Twin Cities each day.

“People around the Twin Cities are waking up to the reality that the equivalent of a pipeline-worth of oil is traveling through their backyards, by their schools and senior centers, and past our beloved parks,” said CARS-Twin Cities member and Como Park resident Cathy Velasquez Eberhart in a press release from the group. “With seven 110-car oil trains passing through our communities each day, we are terrified that it is only a matter of time before an oil train derailment happens here.”

Building on the work of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety group in La Crosse, Wis., more than 100 residents from throughout the Twin Cities have joined CARS-Twin Cities. Organizers say they hope to channel citizens’ fears and anger into action.

In a press release sent out to local media, the organization expressed compassion for people in communities where fuel train derailments have happened this year:

  • Feb. 4: Three derailed ethanol tank cars erupted along and into the Mississippi River outside Dubuque, Iowa.
  • Feb. 14: Nineteen derailed tankers were at least partially breached in an explosion south of Timmens, Ontario.
  • Feb. 16: Nineteen tank cars with Bakken oil exploded in Mt. Carbon, W.V.
  • March 5: Twenty-one tank cars with Bakken oil derailed, several exploded, and five burned outside Galena, Ill., 20 miles from the rail explosions in Iowa four weeks before.
  • March 7: An oil train derailed near Gogama, Ontario, with multiple tank cars on fire and in the river, 21 miles from the fiery derailment that leaked into the same waterway on Feb. 14.

The group is asking elected leaders and state and federal agencies to do the following:

  • Immediately halt the shipping of Bakken oil by BNSF, CP and UP railroads until volatile gasses are removed to a meaningful extent.
  • Halt the use of all versions of DOT-111 rail cars for the shipment of Bakken oil and ethanol, and mandate the use of the proposed DOT-117 rail cars in their place.
  • Launch a federal investigation into the safety of shipping Bakken oil by rail and changes to federal laws and regulations to ensure the safe transport of Bakken oil.
  • Enact a federal investigation into the structural integrity and safety of the national rail infrastructure.
  • Place a temporary hold on all rail expansion projects in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s St. Paul region (Minnesota, Wisconsin and northeast Iowa) pending a thorough investigation of recent accidents.
  • Complete of an environmental impact statement (EIS) of the entire Twin Cities and Upper Mississippi rail corridor.

An EIS would help identify the impact and solutions (such as safer tank cars, speed controls, improved braking systems, increased inspections and improved routing), according to CARS member, Kathy Hollander.

To find out more about the organization, you can go to facebook.com/saferailstwincities or to the group’s website, saferails.org, or email saferailstwincities@gmail.com.

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