MN lawmakers demand oil train disaster response plans in wake of Heimdal crash

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State lawmakers have called on rail operator BNSF to provide details of how it would respond to an oil train disaster in Minnesota, following this week's fiery crash in North Dakota.

A BNSF train carrying 107 cars of crude oil from the Bakken derailed in the tiny town of Heimdal on Wednesday, causing up to 10 cars to catch fire in what was the second major oil train crash the state has seen in the past 18 months.

Now, 39 Minnesota lawmakers have written to BNSF demanding the information it had agreed to provide back in January, details describing the company's emergency response procedures for "worst case scenario" oil train disasters should they occur in Minnesota.

Furthermore, the House and Senate lawmakers want the company to tell the legislature about the level of catastrophic insurance coverage the company maintains in the event of crude oil train accidents, spills and explosions.

Finally, they want to know how the company determines and analyzes the routes through Minnesota that trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials will take.

"The safety of our communities is of urgent concern to us," the letter says, insisting that BNSF responds by June 1.

The letter comes after a series high-profile crashes involving trains carrying highly explosive crude from the Bakken oilfields.

Growing calls for safety improvements

Fifty oil trains pass through Minnesota every week, and a report by the Department of Transportation said that safety issues with the trains are likely to result in approximately 10 derailments every year for the next 20 years.

The federal government has called for an "aggressive schedule" to replace some of the aging and unsafe cars carrying the oil, including the model of cars that caught fire in Heimdal this week.

On Thursday, Sen. Al Franken called on operators to provide more information to the public and first responders on oil train movements through the state.

But the Star Tribune reports that recent rule changes could actually make it harder for Minnesotans to learn about crude oil movements through their communities. The changes to mandatory railroad reporting requirements could limit imformation about oil train routes, numbers and load sizes, the newspaper notes.

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