MnDOT: 326K live within oil train evacuation zones

Northtown Yard
A train leaves the BNSF Northtown Yard in Minneapolis, Sept. 12, 2014.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2014

Some 326,170 Minnesotans, about 6 percent of residents, live within a half mile of rail routes carrying crude oil from North Dakota, state officials said Thursday as they emphasized the need for greater rail safety.

Crude oil trains travel on 700 miles of railroad from North Dakota's Bakken oil fields through the Twin Cities and other parts of the state on the way to the East Coast and Gulf Coast, while Canadian railroads carry shipments of Alberta heavy crude oil through International Falls and Duluth, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said.

Five to seven trains of crude oil pass through the state daily, each carrying about 3.3 million gallons of oil, MnDOT said.

Fears of a potential disaster have grown in recent years as the numbers of train cars shipping Bakken crude has jumped in the past few years. Casselton, N.D., not far from the Minnesota border, narrowly escaped tragedy after a train derailment set off an explosion of crude oil cars in December 2013.

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Derailments and explosions in other parts of the United States and Canada since then have increased those fears.

A half mile is considered the evacuation zone if a train derails and evacuation is needed.

Gov. Mark Dayton has been pressing for more spending to upgrade some railway crossings throughout the state and wants the railroads to share the cost. State officials have identified $240 million in rail crossing improvements that are needed statewide.

In February, Dayton said he wanted railroads to pay significantly higher property taxes and fees to help offset the cost of improvements throughout the state. He's also recommended funding for a new facility at Camp Ripley to train emergency managers on oil train derailments and other hazardous spills.

"This data provides a greater emphasis on the need for a strong rail safety program," said MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in a statement Thursday. "If trains derail and an emergency occurs, many lives could be in danger."

Rail lines of Minnesota