Citizens Acting for Rail Safety warns of oil train dangers

Fred Royal addresses a news conference on July 6 with tank cars parked on the bridge over Capitol Drive in the background. — PHOTO: Sue Bietila

A news conference took place in Milwaukee on July 6 to call attention to the dangers of trains hauling crude oil through communities. The event was held as part of a national campaign. Local speakers included: Fred Royal of NAACP Milwaukee, George Martin of 350.org Milwaukee, Beth Sahagian-Allsopp of Vanguard Sculpture  (a local business owner whose building is less than 100 feet from parked oil tank cars) and Eric Hansen of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety – Milwaukee Area. The following is a statement from CARS.

Citizens Acting for Rail Safety – Milwaukee Area is the local chapter of a regional grassroots citizens campaign organized in response to the surge of dangerous and unnecessary crude oil train traffic through our communities.

We are also part of a broader network – Crude Awakening – that stretches from coast to coast in both the United States and Canada. That movement grew in response to the Quebec disaster 3 years ago — and the industry stonewalling and inept federal regulation since then. Worth noting: the oil train that exploded in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, came through Milwaukee on its way to Quebec.

At the heart of this issue of parked crude oil trains is a citizen’s right to know — and object to — ill- advised industrial schemes that threaten our communities. To say safely or not at all.

A right to know what is coming down the railroad tracks and into our city and our neighborhoods.

A right to know that track defects, bridge repairs and other vital maintenance issues will be addressed promptly.

A right to know why hundreds of tank cars — with 1267 placards indicating they are holding highly explosive crude oil — are being stored in this location.

The 1267 placard is on these tank cars for a good reason. These are not “empty” tank cars — they still contain residue amounts of crude oil — or the 1267 placard would not be there.

Citizens have a right to know who owns these oil tank cars. Who chose to concentrate these crude oil tank cars in this location?

Has the railroad shared its worst case scenarios with local emergency responders?

What is the specific emergency response plan for an oil train fire in this location? How much catastrophic risk insurance does the railroad carry?

The citizens of this neighborhood: parents, neighbors and business owners — and the thousands of citizens who drive under this bridge every week — have a right to know what is going on here.

The railroad should be candid about the very real risks present here.

Connect the dots between what we are seeing here, industry stalling on basic oil train safety measures, continued inept regulation by federal authorities, and a reasonable citizen would be outraged.

Oil trains are too dangerous for the rails — the railroad system and our cities were not laid out with this kind of explosive cargo in mind.

Key fact: nobody puts out oil train fires. Standard procedure is to retreat a safe distance, attempt to contain the fire and stop it from spreading.

A recent oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, Oregon, was the last straw for many fire officials.

Sheer luck, and a rare windless day in an area noted for its high winds, spared the town from a Lac Megantic — like disaster but angry local citizens and officials were horrified, realizing how close they had come to a catastrophe.

Incredibly, the railroad tracks were inspected just a few days before the incident – yet defective track bolts caused the derailment. In addition, the town’s fire chief was amazed to be informed by railroad safety officials that covering the burning tank cars with foam would be ineffective — the metal was so hot that the foam would just evaporate.

After the Mosier fire, the governor of Washington, Oregon’s department of transportation and the Association of Washington Firefighters called for an immediate moratorium on crude oil train traffic.

In addition, Jim Hall, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, called for an end to rail shipments of crude oil, saying “enough is enough.”

After the fire, Jim Appleton, Mosier’s fire chief, noted: “I hope that this becomes the death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane.”

We agree.

The photograph: Fred Royal addresses a news conference on July 6 with tank cars parked on the bridge over Capitol Drive in the background. — CREDIT: Sue Bietila 

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