Franken, Baldwin want more oil train safety measures

Senators oil train
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Al Franken reacted to a passing oil trains during their news conference in Minneapolis on rail safety issues. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

U.S. Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin held a meeting Wednesday in Minneapolis to discuss the need for more safety measures aimed at protecting communities from oil train disasters.

The two Democrats met with local leaders from both states who shared their concerns about increased train traffic carrying volatile crude oil from North Dakota. They also shared ideas for federal legislation.

They met at the Firefighters Hall and Museum, which is located next to tracks used by oil trains.

Franken said he favors what he calls an “all of the above” approach to oil train safety. He said he wants the railroads to provide more information about things including train routes and the condition of bridges.

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“They may be companies that are looking for the biggest return on their buck, their profits. But they should have a responsibility to the public, and I believe those bridge reports should be public,” Franken said.

Franken said it was disturbing to hear from a first responder that inter-agency communication has been a problem when conducting emergency exercises for spills.

“This is something that I ‘m going to be looking at when I get back,” he said.

Baldwin stressed the need to require railroads to notify communities about the movement of hazardous materials.

“It seems like a common sense measure, but that’s not the case today,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the Senate has already passed the requirement, but she’s working to make sure the language remains in a transportation funding measure. She also wants funding for the planning, training and equipment needed by local communities to respond to oil train spills.