With a proposed additional railroad track through La Crosse the amount of trains and rail safety has become a hot topic in our area.
Federal officials began requiring railroad companies to provide the number of trains moving through a given area as well as what materials are being carried to state officials after a series of train accidents last year.
The new publicly released records show just how many trains are passing through local counties every week.
If a train is hauling more than a million gallons of crude oil it must alert certain agencies in the areas it will be going through.
Five counties in western Wisconsin rank in the top seven in the state in terms of the largest number of trains carrying that much oil. For those watching the rail lines closely the numbers aren't surprising.
In a 24-hour period, BNSF Railway said there is an average of 70 trains driving through La Crosse. In a week, 39 of those are carrying more than a million gallons of crude oil.
Of the nine counties that the La Crosse Fire Department's hazmat team responds to, Buffalo, La Crosse, Trempealeau, Vernon and Crawford counties all see between 36 and 39 major oil shipments per week.
"That number doesn't surprise me, not at all," La Crosse Fire Department Chief Gregg Cleveland said.
"No truthfully the numbers didn't surprise us. There's a lot of trains going through the La Crosse area as everybody knows and a fair number of them are hauling oil products," La Crosse Fire Department assistant chief Greg Temp said.
The La Crosse Fire Department is one of the groups that needs to know that number because it's Hazardous Materials crew always needs to be prepared in the case of a spill.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword for us. We got, it's not just a fire, not just an explosion, it's the wildlife, it's birds, it's waterfowl, I mean its a complete package that we need to be, try to be as prepared as possible," Cleveland said.
Another group paying close attention is the Citizens Acting For Rail Safety, or CARS organization. One of its co-founders, Alan Stankevitz, said even he didn't know it was that many trains, but he isn't surprised.
"The heart of the oil is coming through this area," Stankevitz said.
A big concern for the CARS group is that all these counties are right along the river.
"All it's going to take is one of these oil trains or other hazmat materials to release it's contents into the river and then we've got a real problem on our hands because it's not only La Crosse we're talking about the refuge, we're talking about the communities down stream," Stankevitz said.
These trains can carry about 3 million gallons of crude oil.
BNSF Railway released a statement to us saying:
"BNSF has long provided detailed information about all hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, to first responders and local emergency planners, and for many years has conducted training exercises with local emergency responders to help them adequately prepare."