LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – A new federal emergency order requires railroads to estimate how many trains carrying Bakken crude oil pass through a county each week.
The oil,coming from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, is a highly volatile oil and extremely explosive.
In 2008, 9,500 train cars transported Bakken oil throughout the county, according to Wisconsin Emergency Management. In 2013, that number rose to more than 400,000 – and much of it comes through Wisconsin.
With the increase in transports, local emergency crews are gauging their ability to respond to an emergency, such as a spill.
"Just what is coming through? What is coming through our community,” said Maureen Freedland, who is used to dozens of trains passing through her own backyard.
She's a member of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, also known as CARS.
"It's been fun watching the trains, but with the explosions that have taken place across the country... learning about how the Bakken oil is more explosive... yes that does make me very concerned,” Freedland said.
It's a concern she has for the entire community.
Through an open records request, News 19 learned a baseline high of 42 Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains/week come through La Crosse County.
The week of June 5, 2014 to June 11, 2014, 39 trains passed through the county.
But Wisconsin Emergency Management said that number is only an estimate and only includestrains that carry more than 1 million gallons of the volatile oil.
"The numbers vary, of course from week to week, but that's a significant increase from the 26 per week that we were seeing last year,” said Keith Butler, La Crosse County Emergency Management Coordinator.
A concern for county emergency coordinator Keith Butler.
"When we spoke with the fire department about their capacity for dealing with a liquid oil spill and what they would have to need to manage that, they're telling us that this aqueous (film forming) foam.... to hopefully extinguish the fire is in really short supply in La Crosse. We probably don't have enough for more than two or three cars of oil,” Butler said.
"It would depend on the accident. Obviously we could be overwhelmed because of our equipment. But we would use our training and our equipment to keep people safe,” said Greg Temp, division chief of training.
There's talk of BNSF supplying an emergency response tailor that can spew out that foam in large quantities,” Temp said.
But that doesn't alleviate a community fear.
News 19 spoke to BNSF about the number of Bakken crude oil transports in La Crosse County. Spokesperson Amy McBeth sent a statement that reads in part, “ The BNSF has long provided detailed information about all hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, to first responders and local emergency planners...”
“The markets determine where crude oil is transported... Rail is the safest mode of land transportation for freight and one of the safest ways to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials,” according to McBeth.
The concern over the railroad safety has escalated recently due to a series of derailments, including an oil train explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec, Canada.
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