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U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is joining the chorus of those concerned about increased traffic of oil tankers on southeast Minnesota railroads.

Walz on Jan. 15 called for a subcommittee hearing on the issue, two days after members of his staff met with concerned residents in La Crescent to discuss the issue. Walz serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

“We must do everything we can to protect the communities that these hazardous materials are shipped through,” Walz said in a statement. “It’s a miracle that no one was injured after the accident in Casselton. If nothing is done, next time we may not be so lucky.”

Walz was referring to a train derailment near the North Dakota town in late December, which caused a train passing in the opposite direction to collide with the wreckage and ignite crude oil that created a series of explosions. There were no fatalities, but the town was evacuated and an estimated 400,000 barrels of oil burned or spilled.

In the letter calling for the hearing, Walz also cited a number of other recent train derailments. While some involved commuter trains and not hazardous materials, he did cite the July 6 derailment of a train hauling crude oil in Canada miles from the Maine border; the crash killed 47 people and caused substantial damage to a town and the environment.

Walz said in the statement the intent of the hearing is to highlight both the dangers of hauling crude oil and hazardous materials by rail, as well as to start a broader discussion of rail safety. He called for the hearing to include representatives of the rail industry, as well as federal agencies responsible for regulating it, including the Federal Rail Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

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