Minnesotans in oil train 'danger zones" urged to prepare

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The 326,170 Minnesotans who live near railroad tracks carrying North Dakota crude oil should be prepared for a train accident, a state emergency management official says.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The 326,170 Minnesotans who live near railroad tracks carrying North Dakota crude oil should be prepared for a train accident, a state emergency management official says.

"If you live by the train, people need to take some personal awareness of what's around them," Kevin Reed of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management department said. "'How do I get out of the way before the fire department gets here?'"

Minnesotans should answer in advance questions such as "what would I take with me?" he added.

People also should make plans for how to deal with loved ones in schools, nursing homes, businesses and other locations near oil train tracks, Reed said.

First responders such as firefighters and law enforcement officers cannot do everything needed to protect residents in the so-called danger zones, Reed said, leaving residents themselves to bear some responsibility.


The Minnesota Department of Transportation drove home the impact of oil train derailments and potential explosions and fires Thursday by reporting 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks with trains that carry western North Dakota Bakken oil field oil. A half mile is the distance public safety officials say likely would be evacuated in an incident.

On Friday, the department released the number of people in 34 counties where Bakken trains travel.

The state's largest county, Hennepin, has the most residents in the danger zone, 59,359, followed by 44,967 in adjoining Ramsey County. Another Twin Cities county, Anoka, was close behind with 41,389.

Nearly half of those affected are in the Twin Cities area.

In greater Minnesota, Winona in the southeastern part of the state has the most residents near tracks, 22,325. Clay County, where most Bakken oil enters Minnesota, has 19,499 residents near the tracks.

Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties in the St. Cloud area combine for 38,365 residents in the danger zone.

Most Bakken oil trains come into Minnesota in Moorhead, go through the Twin Cities and then south along the Mississippi River. Some oil trains head south to Willmar then out the southwest corner of the state.

A new state report indicates an average of 6.3 oil trains transverse Minnesota daily, most on BNSF Railway Co. tracks.


Derailments of trains carrying North Dakota oil in the United States and Canada in the past couple of years have produced spectacular explosions and fires. One in Canada resulted in 47 deaths, but many have been in isolated areas.

Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democrats propose more oil train safety training money, railroad crossing improvements and other measures, funded by increasing assessments on the state’s largest railroads, taxing more railroad property and borrowing money. Republicans who control the House have yet to say what they would support to improve rail safety.

Railroads say some of the Democrats' proposed taxes would violate federal law and promise to take the state to court if those taxes are approved.

“I’m very disappointed to hear some of the companies are strenuously opposing an increased share of the responsibility for these improvements,” Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday after visiting a Newport elementary school, blocks from heavily used rail lines along U.S. 61 in Washington County. “They’re coming through the state in the volume they are and they’re adding (to) their own profitability, which is why they’re in business, but then to just turn their backs on the people who are living in the vicinity and say, ‘Well, now you have to come up with your own resources to make these safety improvements,” I think is really, really irresponsible.”

Dayton said the report that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of rail lines carrying North Dakota crude oil highlights the need for rail safety improvements.

“It just underscores the risk factor and why it’s imperative that we do everything we possibly can to prevent these derailments and the catastrophes that can result from them,” he said.

Dayton said he is glad that beginning in April, North Dakota will require removing volatile gases from oil being transported by rail through Minnesota.

“That’s very, very important,” he said.



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