Fire chiefs, lawmakers want railroads to release oil train safety plans

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Democratic lawmakers and local government officials want railroads that pass through Minnesota to release their oil train disaster emergency plans to the public.

They used the second anniversary of a huge oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, to call for more transparency from the rail companies, according to MPR News.

In that accident on July 6, 2013, a large area of the town was destroyed when an unmanned 72-car oil train derailed, spilling and igniting nearly two million gallons of crude oil.

Under a state law passed in 2014, the railroads that operate in Minnesota must submit their plans to the state outlining how they will deal with an accident involving an oil train.

According to MPR News, five railroads submitted their plans last month to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. But that information has not been released to the public, nor to officials in the communities that live along the railroad lines.

At a news conference Tuesday, the sponsor of the law, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said the railroad's disaster plans should be widely available.

“What would happen if there was an accident in a densely populated area?” Hornstein said, according to MPR. “The railroads have planned for this, and people need to know what they’re planning and what documents are out there.”

Local officials can read the documents at the MPCA office, but aren't allowed to make copies of them or email them, WCCO reports.

A spokesman for the MPCA said those restrictions are in place because the railroads have privacy concerns, according to MPR News. He added the agency is discussing those issues with the railroads in hopes of releasing the emergency plans to the public soon.

Also at the news conference were members of a local group called Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, who live along some of the railroad lines in the metro area. They held signs saying, "I live in the blast zone," according to the Star Tribune.

"Our homes, our schools, our senior centers, our day cares are in that blast zone,” Cathy Velasquez Eberhart, one of the group's members, said, according to WCCO.

CARS, which formed locally a few months ago, is reaching out to communities along the rail lines to advocate for "the health, safety and quality of life of communities threatened by rail transportation," according to its Facebook page.

First responders in Minnesota are ill-prepared to deal with an oil train disaster, according to a report released by the state back in January. Local police and fire departments generally don't have the equipment, personnel, or proper training to respond to such a disaster, the report noted.

For more background on the oil trains moving through Minnesota, read this summary.

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