Walz, experts, community leaders talk railroad safety - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Walz, experts, community leaders talk railroad safety

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Emergency officials, fire departments, and community leaders voiced their concerns to rail officials Thursday in Rochester.

"What should PHMSA know about your specific communities that you're most curious or most concerned about?" said Congressman Tim Walz, opening up the floor for discussion. 

Several Minnesota communities are dealing with change as more freight trains rumble through town, shipping potentially dangerous cargo. Those trains run through downtown Rochester, carrying ammonia, chlorine, crude oil, or ethanol. Each community has its own challenges or worries with the railroads.

"We are the regional HAZMAT provider up and down the river," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat. 

"In 2010 we did have a derailment right in that area,"
said Wayzata Police Chief Mike Risvold. "As the emergency manager I deemed it a full scale exercise."

The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration is hoping to find solutions to the risks communities are facing.

"We're talking about a very low probability, but the consequences are huge," said Cynthia Quarterman of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

If something did happen, Rochester would have a unique problem. 

"We have this very large medical complex, we have hospitalized patients, patients in intensive care units," said Rochester Deputy Fire Chief Steve Belau. "Specialty care units that can't just be disconnected and moved away from the hazard."

While Rochester firefighters are employed, most small town firefighters are volunteers. Making sure they're prepared poses a challenge. 

"One of the things we're looking at going forward is how we can make sure that volunteer firefighters get the training they need," said Quarterman.

But that training can be very expensive, not only for volunteers, but for Rochester taxpayers, too. 

"For a one week class it can be upwards of $5,000," said Belau. "We can't send everybody in the department to a class like that in a year."

It's just one problem this growing industry is imposing, but
Quarterman said the PHMSA is committed to working out the kinks.

"This is really an important issue to us and we want to make sure we get it right because we don't want to see an incident happen like that in Minnesota," Quarterman said. 

All the concerns voiced Thursday will travel back to Washington to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

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