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State's new rail law looks toward safety

In May, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law legislation passed by the Minnesota Legislature to improve the safety of Minnesotans working and living near railways carrying hazardous materials, including crude oil.

The law, which implements stricter oversight of railroad companies, went into effect Tuesday and follows on the heels of accidents in neighboring states as Minnesota continues to see an increase of trains carrying petroleum products from the North Dakota oil fields.

“Trains carrying crude oil pass through our communities every day,” Dayton said in a press release. “We have learned from dangerous accidents in other states that without proper safety measures that cargo could pose a very real risk to our citizens.”

Dayton said he is confident all new regulations, which include more railway inspections and providing better emergency response training and preparedness, will be strictly enforced by the departments of transportation and public safety.

Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin said he thinks the legislation is a good first step toward addressing the issues concerning the railways passing through Minnesota, particularly the transportation of crude oil.

“I think the proactive increase in rail inspections is a good thing along with the commitment to additional training needed for emergency responders,” McNurlin said in an email to the RE. “My hope is that additional legislation, if needed, keeps pace with these new emerging rail issues so we can remain adequately prepared should additional challenges arise.”

Mona Dohman, Department of Public Safety commissioner, said they welcome the opportunity to educate first responders on the challenges presented by the volume of crude oil making its way across the state.

Dohman added the DPS will bring together community leaders, railroad and pipeline operators, and emergency planners to ensure all communities are prepared to handle an incident involving crude oil. 

Key features of the new law

Prevention plans required – Requires railroad companies to submit disaster prevention plans to the state of Minnesota. This new law will require companies transporting hazardous materials to develop safety measures that help keep Minnesotans and the environment safe.

Increased safety inspections – Increases the number of railway inspectors at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, paid for with an annual assessment on railroad companies.

Emergency response training – Requires railroads to provide emergency response training every three years to every fire department located along oil train routes. This training will help ensure Minnesota firefighters are prepared to respond to a disaster.

This law also requires the Department of Public Safety to continue to provide training and response preparedness to emergency responders. This is paid for through an assessment on railroads and pipelines.

Planning emergency responses – Requires railroads to file emergency response plans with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and to update these plans.

Improving response capacity – Requires railroads to deploy enough equipment to clean up within a specified time period any spills or leaks that may occur. This means that those who cause accidents or disasters will be held responsible for cleaning them up.

Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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