Sens. Franken, Baldwin call for stronger oil train safety measures

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U.S. Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin united Wednesday to express their continuing concern over the safety of trains that pass through both states carrying volatile crude oil from North Dakota.

Franken and Baldwin, both Democrats, convened a panel in Minneapolis Wednesday to discuss the need for more action to prevent oil train accidents and prepare communities to respond to them if they occur, WCCO reports.

While the oil business has slowed somewhat due to the recent downturn in prices, up to 50 trains carrying North Dakota crude pass through Minnesota each week, according to documents released last year by the Department of Public Safety.

Those trains, most of which travel through the Twin Cities metro area, carry up to 1 million gallons of oil apiece.

Wednesday's hearing was held at the Firefighters Hall and Museum in Minneapolis, which is very close to a railroad line that carries oil trains, WCCO noted.

Minnesota and Wisconsin haven't experienced any major oil train disasters, but Franken said they can't rely only on luck to keep that record going, according to WCCO.

In the past seven months, there have been at least six serious oil train accidents in North America, according to Franken and Baldwin. A train derailment in Heimdahl, North Dakota, in May led to the town's evacuation. Another train carrying Bakken oil exploded in Quebec two years ago, killing 47 people.

First responders in Minnesota say they aren't prepared to deal with a similar disaster.

They told the lawmakers they need more training, more equipment and more information from the railroads about what kinds of hazardous materials are traveling through their communities, MPR News reports.

They also want railroads that pass through Minnesota to release their oil train disaster emergency plans to the public.

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. But those plans aren't distributed to local communities or to the public.

The lawmakers said they will push the Transportation Department to strengthen safety regulations for the railroads and require more transparency from them regarding their emergency plans.

WCCO notes that Burlington Northern Santa Fe expects to spend $326 million this year on track improvements and maintenance.

Here's a closer look at what we know about the crude oil that moves through Minnesota – by rail and pipeline.

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