LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Over one year ago, Canada was shaken after a train derailed at Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, as 47 people died from the massive oil tanker spill.
On Thursday, “Citizens Acting for Rail Safety” (C.A.R.S.) hosted a vigil at La Crosse Central High School. Nearly 40 La Crosse-area residents gathered outside of the school, urging for higher safety standards along the railways.
“It's good for us to remember, but do more than remember to learn from the accident,” CC.A.R.S.Steering Committee member Curtis Miller said.
Miller referred to last year's events in Canada as an “unnatural disaster”. “This was an industrial accident, which meant that it was in the accident in the course of doing business,” Miller said. “We as a community need to exert a lot of force really in raising and uniting our voices.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, almost 650,000 car loads of oil are expected to travel through La Crosse County this year—up from 434,000 car loads one year ago.
“The more and more that comes through, we are concerned,” Assistant Chief of the La Crosse Fire Department Warren Thomas said.
Thomas said if a train were to derail in La Crosse, lack of resources, not staffing, is the issue they'd face. “As far as quality of foam incase we had to put a foam blanket on a car, or a fire associated with some of the rail cars that might have been spilled, we don't have that,” Thomas said. “If one car derailed, we might be able to handle that. If it was a car with multiple cars, we would be issuing lots of emergency help.”
Thomas said though he believes increased train traffic through La Crosse County doesn't equate to increased risk of derailment. “The train tracks are in pretty good shape and the railroad companies do pretty well as far as staging and scheduling their trains, and do a good job maintaining the tracks,” Thomas said.
Safety remains the top concern, and finding a way for the railroads, residents, and city to work together remains an obstacle.