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Editorial: More must be done on railroad safety

Published 9:59am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Evidence — in the form of fiery and deadly accidents — is mounting that clearly shows more must be done across North America to prepare communities for responding to derailments of trains carrying crude oil.

The latest example: The Associated Press news report Tuesday that showed 10 oil-train derailments since 2008 spilled 3 million gallons of oil, including one accident in Quebec that killed 47 people. And as the AP noted, the number of such trains crisscrossing the continent will only grow in coming years. Minnesota already sees about 2,000 such trains annually.

Those numbers are why two Minnesota legislators last week proposed taxing oil shipped through the state and using those revenues to train communities along these rail lines on how to prepare for potential disasters.

Minneapolis DFLers Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble, who chair their respective chambers’ transportation committees, talked of a tax generating upward of $30 million annually. Those funds would go toward equipping and training local emergency responders on how to handle oil spills and derailments. Localized disaster planning also would receive help.

Certainly, this is an idea worth examination. But it must come with exacting details on everything from consistent training programs to why $30 million needs to be spent annually on such efforts.

Equally important, any state-level changes must be viewed in context with proposals in other states and at the federal level. After all, regulators here and in Canada are in agreement the oil extracted from the booming Bakken area is more volatile than conventional oils.

Just last month, the National Transportation Safety Board called for the Federal Railroad Administration to update its safety standards while also pushing the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to craft oil-spill response plans to address this boom in oil trains.

Those demands came on the same day the Transportation Safety Board of Canada made similar requests of its government.

While a few diehard anti-tax legislators immediately criticized Minnesota’s idea last week, the reality seems to be that governments and even the rail industry know steps must be taken to improve the safety involved in shipping more oil throughout North America.

Spilling 3 million gallons of crude oil the past five years is bad enough for the environment. But when such spills also catch fire and cause deadly explosions, it’s clear more must be done to protect everyone — and everything — living near these increasingly busy rail lines.

— St. Cloud Times, Feb. 18

 

Editor’s note: Publication of editorials from other newspapers is not a Tribune endorsement of their viewpoints. Rather, we merely aim to expose our readers to other opinions.