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ABC 6 Investigates Freight Rail Hazards

Created: 01/16/2014 5:38 PM KAALtv.com
By: Ellery McCardle

(ABC 6 NEWS) – It’s hard to forget the video of the train derailment and explosion in North Dakota last month.

The cars were carrying Bakken oil, a type of crude from North Dakota.

It wasn't the first time something like this has happened.

"One thing we've talked about is 'what if?'" Said Capt. Kevin Torgerson, director of Olmsted County Homeland Security and Emergency Operations.

Seeing the, you can't help but ask that question. It's Torgerson's job to constantly think about preparedness.

"If the bad day were to happen we have arrangements and agreements with agencies...to manage those problems," said Torgerson.

Besides the incident in North Dakota, there have been at least two other derailments within the past year or so. One in two harbors, another in Montreal.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar writes that she wants a hearing to focus on oversight of rail car safety and potential reforms to rail tank car standards.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Transportation is warning of the dangers of Bakken oil. The agency says that specific type of crude could be more flammable than traditional kinds.

There are two main rail lines that go through Southeast Minnesota. One, is a Union Pacific line running north/south near Albert Lea. The second is a Canadian Pacific line that runs through Rochester. Union Pacific officials say Bakken oil is not being transported through the area. However, Canadian Pacific says for security reasons, it cannot reveal what its transporting through the area.

Torgerson doesn't believe Bakken oil is being transported through Olmsted County. Instead, "its mostly ethanol coal."

Canadian Pacific, with its line running through downtown Rochester, tells us its continuing to work with regulators, the rail industry and other stakeholders on any additional measures to make the industry even safer.

Torgerson says he's comfortable with what the rail companies are doing, but the concern of a derailment is something on his mind.

"The best thing we can do is making sure that the railroad companies are doing what they need to do to be safe," says Torgerson.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says it will continue to test Bakken oil for many factors including how toxic and flammable it can be.

This week Congressman Tim Walz is also calling for a hearing to examine rail safety.