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MN lawmakers want access to railroad emergency plans

Rep. Frank Hornstein and oil train safety advocates held a news conference to call for greater transparency from railroads. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

DFL lawmakers and some local government officials are calling on Minnesota railroad officials to make public the emergency plans they recently submitted to the state for dealing with an oil train disaster.

Those plans are now required under state law, but the railroads have not shared the information publicly. Five railroads submitted plans to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last month.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, was a chief sponsor of the 2014 legislation. He said during a news conference Tuesday that he expects greater transparency from the railroads.

“What would happen if there was an accident in a densely populated area?” Hornstein asked. “The railroads have planned for this, and people need to know what they’re planning and what documents are out there.”

Judson Freed, director of emergency management for Ramsey County, said he also wants to see the railroad plans.

“I need to know that the plans that we’re putting in place in Ramsey County and with our communities are complementary to the plans that the rail industry is putting into place, and that their plans are complementary to ours,” Freed said.

Following the news conference, a spokesperson for the MPCA said that local emergency officials will be allowed to view the plans in person at the agency, but cannot yet receive copies due to privacy concerns raised by the railroads. He said discussions were underway to address those concerns before releasing the documents.

Amy McBeth, a spokesperson for BNSF Railway, responded with a statement that stressed the railroad’s ongoing work with local responders on emergency preparation and training.

“We understand MPCA is in the process of reviewing BNSF’s plan and we’ll work with the state agency as it responds to requests for public release of the plan,” McBeth wrote. “We will continue working with officials and responders to share information and provide ongoing training as we have done for decades.”