Baldwin hopes Alma derailment shows need for improved rail safety measures

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said it shouldn’t take a train derailment to take action, but she hopes Congress will now realize the need for improved safety measures following two train derailments in Wisconsin over the weekend.

Baldwin was in Alma Thursday touring the area where 25 cars derailed Saturday and talked about her proposed legislation.

The head of the Federal Railroad Administration, Sarah Feinberg, said the train derailment in Alma “is an example of an incident going well.” However, Baldwin is hoping her push for increased safety measures on the railroads will speed up the response process.

The sound of a trains horn is a familiar sound for Sandy Schams, who has owned Water Lily Gifts in downtown Alma for the past 12 years, about a mile from where 25 rail cars derailed less than a week ago.

“Well, it’s kind of scary, because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but thankful that it was north of town instead of right in town, where it could (have) had a lot more casualties or damage to buildings,” Schmas said.

Baldwin is also thankful no one was hurt during this accident, but she said enough is enough.

Baldwin put two amendments into the U.S. transportation bill earlier this year that she said would dramatically improve the shipping of hazardous materials by rail.

The first is transparency. Baldwin wants the Federal Rail Administration to keep on file the latest copy of a bridge or rail inspection and make it accessible to state and local officials.

“Right now, even the federal rail administration cannot get copies of the bridge inspections, cannot get copies of the rail inspections,” Baldwin said.

The senator also wants rail companies to alert first responders 12 hours before a hazardous material goes through their community.

The Buffalo County sheriff said having that type of information would be very beneficial to first responders.

“The sooner we know what’s on board some of these trains the better our response can be,” Sheriff Michael Schmidtknecht said.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway spokeswoman Amy McBeth said her company has long provided states and first responders with hazardous materials reports, and now, BNSF has an app for first responders to look up what a rail car is hauling.

“We’re continuing to provide additional information to first responders so that they have the information that they need,” McBeth said.

Schams doesn’t have an opinion on the political side of things, but she said she just wants to make sure her and her neighbors stay safe.

The two amendments from Baldwin were approved by the U.S. Senate as a part of its transportation bill. However, the House passed a different version. Congress is discussing both versions of the bill now, and Baldwin hopes her amendments will be in the final version of the bill.

Schmidtknecht said some of the Alma first responders did have some hazmat training prior to the derailment, but he said they could definitely use more.

McBeth said BNSF’s investigation into why the train derailed is on-going, and she had no timeline for when it will be completed.