Wisconsin News

How prepared is La Crosse for a train disaster?

Officials say safety plans have been in the works for years

How prepared is the city for a train disaster?

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Four miles of new train tracks are being proposed from the South Side to the North Side of La Crosse, but many residents are concerned the extra rail line will increase the chances of a major disaster.

Keith Butler, emergency management coordinator for La Crosse County, said the city has been preparing for disaster situations, such as spills and derailments, for many years.

"There are perceived threats and risks," said Butler.

The city of La Crosse is no stranger to railroads.

"I found a map of the Burlington railroad coming into La Crosse in 1844," said Butler.

The city is also well-versed in risks associated with them, such as a spill.

"Is it getting into the ditches, is it in storm sewers, is it being carried someplace else?"said Butler.

With a proposed second set of railroad tracks in La Crosse, residents are worried those risks would double.

"With just more train traffic, your chances of having a train derailment are increased," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

But emergency management officials don't leave much to chance when it comes to community safety.

" A great deal of work has already been done for many years. Responders have been mindful of what happens if a spill happens here, what happens if there's a fire or gas-line explosion or whatever," said Butler.

Evacuation routes are also in place, just in case.

"For this particular area where the railroad passes through, and the proposal is to add a second track, we are developing a very unique evacuation plan for that area," said Butler.

Although local officials have worked hard to stay one step ahead of a disaster, they admit there's more that can be done.

"We've identified a number of training needs and equipment needs to be able to do that, especially if there was a spill in the La Crosse marsh, that's going to cost resources that we don't have right now," said Kabat.

"We are trying to gather that and figure out where our capacities are and where we need to plug some gaps," said Butler.

BNSF, the rail company proposing the second track, is still in the process of submitting a permit. A spokesperson from BNSF told News 8 that a second rail line would actually increase safety because it would move trains through La Crosse more efficiently.

Kabat said an official public hearing on the proposed rail line will be coming up in the near future.

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