Railroad safety is the focus of an upcoming hearing on Capitol Hill this week.
Monday, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) held a community meeting in Winona, one of the communities affected by an oil spill earlier this year. Those types of emergencies weren't the only focus of the meeting, community members want to know how to make their rail systems more efficient, and if they are ready if an even bigger disaster happens.
With so much rail traffic in our area, local leaders want to make sure those trains are running as safely as possible. "The city of Winona certainly has a lot of track going through the heart of our community," says Winona Mayor Mark Peterson, "there's a lot of things that are being done, obviously the railroad cares a lot about safety too and they don't want these incidents, as they refer to them, to happen either."
Winona county has had it's share of incidents, including a 12,000 gallon oil spill earlier this year, and a train derailment in 2008, but it's a recent train crash in North Dakota that sent flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air that has local cities worried the most. "Some of these larger accidents like we've heard about in North Dakota," says Peterson, "those are beyond the ability of a community our size."
"We're trying to strike a balance between safety of our citizens, which is paramount on this," says Rep. Walz, "but also making sure the economy works." Rep. Walz met with Peterson and other local leaders Monday. They talked about making sure there was enough training for local first responders if a North Dakota-type event were to happen, and that railroads were maintaining their tracks and infrastructure. Rep. Walz knows a strong partnership between railroads and the communities they roll through is important. "I certainly believe it's in the railroad's best interest to have products arrive safely," says Rep. Walz, "I think it's in their best interest and I believe they do have a moral responsibility, and they exhibit that of trying to do what's best not only for their employees but for the people along the track to be good neighbors in this, so I think it's doable."
One reason this topic is becoming more important is the shift in energy use in the U.S. With more focus on local energy sources, crude oil shipments over rail are up 400% since 2005, that's according to the NTSB.
The House Transportation Committee plans to meet on Wednesday to discuss rail safety.