In an era of increasing reliance on railroads to transport the nation's oil supplies, it is important that Rochester leaders take into account the Mayo Clinic's proximity to rail lines and the city's role as an emergency response center, a top federal safety official said Thursday.
Rail accidents are unlikely, but very dangerous when they occur, Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, told first responders, state and local leaders at a meeting Thursday.
"There needs to be some thought put into, given what is going on the rails now," Quarterman said. "What would you do, I mean really, what would you do, if that incident were to happen here?"
No oil freight traffic goes through Rochester, but the city is central source for haz-mat response in southeastern Minnesota and Mayo Clinic has a vulnerable population of patients, said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who hosted the meeting.
"The challenges in Rochester are an immobile population at the Mayo Clinic that could not be moved," Walz said. "So if you had an incident, it would look unlike almost any place else in the country, in terms of how do you move thousands of hospital patients where the nearest level one trauma center is 80 miles away?"
Walz said federal regulators should consider the unique needs of communities as they develop new safety standards for moving oil on railroad tracks.
Last year, U.S. railroads hauled about 415,000 carloads of crude oil, compared to fewer than 10,000 cars in 2008.