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Gov. Dayton creates new position to oversee rail safety

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Amid growing concern surrounding rail safety, Governor Mark Dayton has appointed Alene Tchourumoff to the brand new position of State Rail Director, according to a statement.

In this role, Tchourumoff will oversee Dayton's efforts to enhance rail safety including the upgrade of railroad crossings, investing in highway rail separations, first responder training and constructing a new state emergency operations center.

“With more than 4,400 miles of rail routes used by more than 20 different railroads, Minnesota needs a full-time, highly-qualified leader devoting close attention to their safe and efficient operations," said Dayton in a statement.

Tchourumoff currently serves as Director of the Planning Department for Hennepin County Public Works. Before that she was a policy advisor for the Federal Railroad Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the statement.

Why the new position?

Lawmakers and officials have been focused on improving rail safety lately. A bill in the Minnesota House that would establish data practices and require certain levels of disaster preparedness passed a committee last month; the Senate version also passed a committee.

Recent derailments have drawn even more attention to the legislation. Last week a train derailed in Superior, but nothing was spilled and nobody was injured.

In March, a train and tanker truck carrying propane crashed in Callaway. Dayton personally visited the small town and pointed out that the crash – which resulted in an explosion – is proof that it can happen elsewhere in Minnesota.

There was also a derailment in southeast Minnesota, along the Mississippi River, in January. And there were a pair of derailments in Wisconsin last November, which prompted Minneapolis City Council member to call for safety improvements.

The bigger picture

Rail safety is a hot topic around the country, with explosions following derailments from Montana to Virginia.

Just this morning, another train derailed in Washington D.C. spilling hazardous chemicals.

Last year, the Department of Transportation predicted that there will be 10 derailments each year for the next two decades, projecting $4 billion in damages and hundreds of deaths.

The most horrific incident rail safety activists point to is the explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada which demolished the town and killed 47 people in 2013.

There were 141 crude oil spills on the rails in the U.S. in 2014, not including derailments of other hazardous chemicals, said Chicago Magazine.

The risk of a crude oil spill runs high in Minnesota since it is neighbors with North Dakota – the biggest producer of Bakken Oil.

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