Train Conference 02

Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg speaks with those in attendance at the Alma Marina on Thursday, as she and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin met with local elected officials and first responders at the site of the train derailment that occurred last week.

ALMA, Wis. — There were no injuries and so far no signs of environmental damage after a freight train carrying ethanol went off the tracks Saturday, but state and federal officials are calling for better regulation and safety measures in the wake of two Wisconsin derailments in as many days.

“This is probably a great example of an incident where we feel like we got really lucky,” Sarah Feinberg, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said Thursday while meeting with local first responders.

The response by the county’s volunteer firefighters — aided by state and federal officials and the La Crosse Fire Department’s hazmat team — was smooth and well coordinated, and cool temperatures may have helped prevent an explosion, said Alma Fire Chief Tom Brakke, who added, “It could have been a whole lot worse.”

Buffalo County’s director of emergency management was more blunt.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Stephen Schiffli. “It should be a wake-up call.”

About 25 cars on the BNSF train left the tracks, spilling up to 20,000 gallons of the alcohol/gasoline mixture into the Mississippi River backwaters. On Sunday, a Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil left the tracks in Watertown, Wis., spilling hundreds of gallons of the fuel and prompting an evacuation in the southern Wisconsin city.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, used the back-to-back disasters to renew her calls for Congress to enact safety reforms, including a ban on shipping flammable liquids in outdated tank cars, known as DOT-111s, that were involved in Saturday’s crash.

“We want to learn everything we can from a derailment like this or the one that was experienced the next day in Watertown,” she said, “and update our policies and laws where we need to.”

A transportation bill passed by the Senate included Baldwin’s reforms, but the House passed a version that did not.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates there are more than 80,000 such unjacketed 111s hauling flammable liquids. Feinberg, the newly confirmed FRA administrator, said DOT-117 tankers made to new, stronger specifications will be less likely to puncture.

“These are cars that … are on their way out,” Feinberg said.

But DOT rules adopted this spring allow the old 111s to remain in service through 2023.

“I think that has to happen faster,” Baldwin said. “That’s my job ....”

Feinberg said shippers are not moving as fast as they could to update their fleets.

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“One thing that we’ve seen is we’re not at capacity,” she said. “It is well within the control of some of the shippers to turn over to 117s faster.”

Feinberg touted other federal safety provisions, including Positive Train Control, which she called “a game changer” for rail safety.

Under a 2008 law, railroads were required to implement PTC by the end of 2015, but under pressure from the industry, Congress extended that deadline for three years.

All trains carrying flammable materials will also need advanced electronic braking — starting in 2023.

Baldwin said she would also like to create a system to provide real-time information about the materials moving through their communities.

BNSF has recently rolled out a website and mobile app available to state and local officials, said spokeswoman Amy McBeth.

At the state level, Wisconsin Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, introduced a bill that would fund state rail inspectors and training for first responders while requiring railroads to submit emergency prevention and response plans detailing how they would handle derailments and other accidents.

Sunday’s Watertown derailment was the year’s 10th involving oil or ethanol in North America, according to McClatchy news service. A Canadian Pacific train derailed on Feb. 4 along the Mississippi River near Dubuque, Iowa, spilling an estimated 55,000 gallons of ethanol. A month later, a BNSF train carrying Bakken crude derailed and burst into flames in a rural area south of Galena, Ill.

BNSF operates 20 to 30 trains per week carrying at least 1 million gallons of volatile crude oil from North Dakota along the tracks that run parallel to the Mississippi River from south of the Twin Cities to the Illinois border, according to information provided to state emergency officials and released in response to Tribune open records requests. Canadian Pacific moves about 7 to 11 trains per week on tracks that hug the Minnesota side of the Mississippi and head east across Wisconsin in La Crosse.

Schiffli said the increase in rail crude shipments make such disasters more likely.

“Now it’s the law of probabilities,” he said.

Alma Mayor Jim Wilkie said the city’s proximity to the rail line makes the 781 residents hypersensitive to hazardous cargo, especially since a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, exploded in 2013, killing 47 people and leveling nearly half the town.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this town that doesn’t dread what happened in Quebec,” Wilkie said.

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(36) comments


You are wrong in the foreign oil sale. yes some is sold off. But the product being sold in most cases is not fuel grade. the us has refineries tap it pretty well.
That aside. nobody has addressed the comment in the article that this was ethanol or gas/alcohol

Ben Burnt

Let's stay on target here. Fracked oil would not be the problem it is today, if the gov't had not given the oil companies free rein on the "Clean Water Act". Further the Gov't passed a law in 1975 that no domestic oil could be shipped out of the country. Soon after they allowed shipping out of the country if they did a distillate process. Right now 60% of fracking oil is being exported. What happened to self sufficiency & National Security?

The train companies have had 20 years to upgrade the cars, and have done nothing. They no longer check the rail lines; they wait for something to happen, and then fix it.

Lastly, big energy companies have fought any effort to develop solar and wind energy. If their efforts had not been so egregious, we could be where we would need only half the oil that we use now.

Please work together and don't diss each other.


Where is walker ? At the Koch party


One other thing highlighted in the article is the new train car technology. As time has passed, technology has improved. The DOT-117 is replacing the older DOT-111 unjacketed tank cars. “These are cars that … are on their way out,” Feinberg said. People are yelling about the safety of the DOT-111s and demand they be phased out. As stated, this is already being done.

What is overlooked is the fact the DOT-111 cars have been used for a long time and have been statistically safe. The DOT-117 cars are safer but nobody can snap their fingers and suddenly replace all of the DOT-111 cars with a new fleet. Building them takes time.

Another commenter accuses me of looking in the rear-view mirror. No, I'm looking ahead as well. ECP brake systems and PTC are technology improvements which are being implemented by the railroads now to make their systems safer. Systems are being developed and new sensors built into locomotive carriages (e.g. EMAT) will constantly inspect tracks.


“We can’t fix every problem or guarantee there will be no more accidents. But that's no reason to stay on the sidelines. We should get into the game. The state needs to work with the railroads and the feds, and invest in the safety of the rail system that is vital to our economy and runs through the heart of so many North Dakota communities.
(The writer is chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, Julie Fedorchak.)”
Track failures are linked to 31 percent of all train accidents, and even though such incidents are becoming less common, prevention remains critical, said Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Mike Booth. It’s especially important with a 400 percent increase in more volatile Bakken crude oil being shipped out of the North Dakota region.
Railroads are required by law to inspect and maintain their equipment in good repair, and the Federal Railroad Administration ensures that by auditing records and doing spot inspections, Booth said.
Statistically, the probability of an oil train derailment is very low and lower than other forms of transportation. But the potential undesirable consequences are relatively high, including damage to human life, property and the environment.
Environmental and economic impacts, however, were substantial. Recent reports have noted that the amount of oil spilled in 2013 alone from train derailments, at more than 1.1 million gallons, was greater than the total amount of oil spilled from 1975 to 2012.
The Federal Railroad Administration enforces the health and safety regulations under which the railroads operate. But they have been more indulgent and less strict than they should be, given the increase in crude oil cargoes and their extreme volatility.
Tell them to do their jobs, to protect the citizens, not just the railroad shareholders. Sign the petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/enforce-railroad-health?source=s.fwd&r_by=1718159


the reporter needed to clarify what was in the cars. I'm reading that it was first ethanol then described as gasoline/ethanol. if this was 20000 gallons of e85 or less concentration.... this is actually serious spill. that's gasoline in the water people. was it e10? e15?


Tammy Baldwin is a joke. These proposals have been looked at for decades. She thinks she came up with this.
Tammy should have done her job when she new about the VA.

You will never have a completely safe railway, Accidents happen.


"You will never have a commpletly safe railway. Accidents happen." Well, then so be it. Let's just keep using oil to power our cars, pollute our air and burn our neighborhoods. When have any Americans ever worked to try to come up with better ways of doing things? No point in starting now.


You are still using oil to power you car, Gramps.

You're typical of the left-wing hypocrites who demand others to do as you say, not as you do. When are you going to pony up your own cash to buy an electric car or at least one that runs on natural gas?


crank. where is walker hiding ??


OK let's ship the oil by semi truck. If you want to see people get killed switch to highway.
Or maybe a pipeline. Maybe not heating our homes and driving our cars will help.

You railroad bashers and alarmists have to understand accidents will happen, always have and always will.

1.3 million people die every year in auto accidents, bark up another tree.


I made the same case the other day in another article. One of the more senile trib-libs went off on a rant about oil trains after the Alma derailment but wouldn't acknowledge that fact that not a drop of oil was spilled in Alma. He couldn't stop stop him from ranting on and on about oil.

Statistically, trains are very safe and have carried hazardous substances for decades with a very good safety record when compared to other methods of transporting freight. Excellent point made about trucks vs. trains. Now that trains are carrying more oil, the anti-oil/global-warming crowd are suddenly concerned about rail safety but the same crowd wringing their hands about trains are dead set against pipelines.

The bottom line is we need trains to move freight which includes oil, ethanol and a host of other hazardous and non-hazardous things and they do it quite safely.


Crank, you say: Statistically, trains are very safe and have carried hazardous substances for decades with a very good safety record when compared to other methods of transporting freight.

Anyone with any common sense can see you are looking in a rear view mirror,because those same railroad tracks are now older and more used today than before. Those railroad tracks are in need of more scrutiny than before, just simply due to increased usage.

Yes, accidents do happen, however due to the hazards the risk are now much higher than before.


You quoted me... Is what I said untrue?

So I'm looking back at the 'track' record, spirit. The railroads are constantly maintaining, upgrading and rebuilding. There is no upside whatsoever for railroads to sacrifice safety. There is too much at stake.

Anyone with common sense who is being honest can see that the people who are squealing about train safety are really squealing about oil. Trains are still the safest available method for transporting these materials in high volume. For oil, a safer means of transport is pipeline. I've already highlighted the curious opposition to pipelines by the anti-train (anti-oil) crowd.

Further, the railroad bashers loudly opposed the second track through La Crosse while screeching about oil. The reality is the second track will reduce the amount of traffic on a single set of rails and allow for longer and more frequent maintenance windows to service and replace aging tracks & ties thanks to the extra capacity resulting in greater safety.


"We dodged a bullet" and "cool temperatures may have helped prevent an explosion, said Alma Fire Chief Tom Brakke, who added, “It could have been a whole lot worse.” Well, if it could be a lot worse, then by all means, let's keep going relentlessly until it IS a lot worse. Hey


Yes, there could have been an ETHANOL explosion! Not the evil crude oil you continually rant about but continue to use in your own car even though you're demanding everyone else stop.

This stuff that spilled in Alma was the safe and eco-friendly oil substitute that comes from corn! And NO!, There was no giant explosion. As I said before, it almost seems like you're wishing for an explosion so you can rant even more and say, "See, I was right!"

I've covered in other comments as others have...nobody is standing still when it comes to rail safety. The railroads have improved and continually improve with new technology and safer rail car designs. They have done so for decades. You refuse to acknowledge any of it because some trains carry oil and you are on a one-man crusade against crude.

The trouble is, Gramps, we still need oil for lots and lots of things and there is no substitute.


"I made the same case the other day in another article. One of the more senile trib-libs went off on a rant about oil trains after the Alma derailment but wouldn't acknowledge that fact that not a drop of oil was spilled in Alma. He couldn't stop stop him from ranting on and on about oil." Just guessing, crank, that I am the senile trib-lib you are talking about. You are a jerk and way beyond. Maybe you'll get lucky and you'll be driving next to a track when the train derails and explodes. Enjoy it, dude. Maybe THEN you'll understand my problem with oil. And, thanks for totally missing my point, which was about DEVELOPING NEW FUELS so we could get rid of the dangers and pollution from oil, and being held hostage by oil barons around the world, whose hobby/business is shafting their customers. I guess that option's not on the table. Better to stick with the old stuff, like you and your ideas being totally devoid of imagination and innovation.


"Maybe you'll get lucky and you'll be driving next to a track when the train derails and explodes."

Again, it really seems like you're praying for a big derailment.

"And, thanks for totally missing my point, which was about DEVELOPING NEW FUELS so we could get rid of the dangers and pollution from oil..."

What spilled in Alma WAS one of the new fuels. NOT OIL... Yet, you persist with your rants about oil.

And thanks for missing my point that you are a hypocrite by doing nothing to get rid of oil yourself but demanding others stop using oil. You still drive a gasoline-powered vehicle.

You continue, "...and being held hostage by oil barons around the world, whose hobby/business is shafting their customers."

Now we're getting somewhere. It's really your class envy that has your panties in a twist. You're just pissed about how much money it costs to run your SUV. You have gas-guilt and you're projecting blame on people who supply it.


And I am not senile and I know very well it was ethanol in the water in Alma, not oil. The spill in Watertown, though, THAT SAME WEEKEND, was oil. Do you consider everyone whose ideas vary from your closed-minded approach to life a "senile trib-lib?" Well, lock yourself into 1956, crank, and we'll wave at you as we leave you behind.


You made your anti-oil rants way before any derailment occurred in Watertown. You weren't speaking about the derailment in Alma when commenting in the article about Alma. It was a rant about oil.

Again, does the car you drive burn gasoline or is it electric or natural gas? Do you own solar panels and use them on your home to heat it or produce electricity? You rant on and on about how other should and shouldn't but you don't practice what you preach.

Reality... we continue to need oil while technology improves the alternatives and while HYPOCRITES like you still drive their gasoline-burning cars while demanding others stop using oil. You aren't leaving anyone behind. You see, it isn't me who is close-minded and locked in 1956, it is you. Talk is cheap, Gramps.

What spilled in Alma was ONE OF THE NEW FUELS being used to replace oil. Oh, the irony!


"He couldn't stop stop him from ranting on and on about oil." And you could not absorb one tiny bit of what I was trying to say. (The double use of "stop" is from crank, not me. And I'm not sure who the "he" is that couldn't stop him from ranting.)


Thanks Tammy.The tracks run behind our home..i must admit the area of track behind our home seems to have people checking it quite frequently.Lucky to have so many workers living in La Crosse.The oil pipeline proposed through iowa,though i am sure would not be good for that state should cut down oil by rail through La Crosse.I think Baldwins ideas are wonderful..would also like to see measures to include lowered speeds.Frankly with the Republican house i am not too confident they will get passed.


Funny thing, where are all the Republicans that always shout "Free Market" and "Less Regulations" and "Get Government out of our lives"

These are the same people that whine that a response or clean up wasn't fast enough or adequate from the same Government that they want to get rid of.

Next they will blame the Government for not inspecting the tracks or enforcing regulations... again, the same Government they want to cut until it doesn't exist.




Thanks Tammy for caring and checking. While our Gov runs around on our money and time, , trying to find a million dollars to pay off all his debts.


“We dodged a bullet,” said Stephen Schiffli. “It should be a wake-up call.”

Too late. BNSF just went back to sleep.

Here's where BNSF learned how to run their railroad from:

"Classic Lionel Trains in Action"



Years ago I use to see railway maintenance crews running up and down the tracks all the time during the day. And not just in trucks equipped to run the tracks but smaller low profile open air maintenance vehicles that allowed the men to actually look at the tracks. They cut their maintenance crews along with other crews they have. They need to have more train roundabout houses that train cars are run through and checked by maintenance crews. They need more maintenance crews checking the wheels and axles along with more track crews running the tracks. Now that they're over flowing with cash they need to start spending it on their companies and hire more people to maintain their equipment.


Dear Lookout, it's called automation and technology now days. "Roundabouts" I believe you meant Roundhouses, were not used to inspect train cars. They were used to turn train locomotives from one set of tracks to another via a turntable inside the Roundhouse, thus the round building shape with many tracks leading into and out of. Not many if any left today as modern locomotives can be run in either direction from the same control panel. There few if any "car men" as they were called today because all modern freight and passenger cars have sealed bearings which need no luring and are inspected for excessive heating by devices in the tracks at various points with a readout going to a person in contact with the train' crew. Today's car men assist train crews if needed via a truck instead of your "putt putt" cars. I believe each section of track is still inspected daily by a human in a vehicle looking for visual defects Such as cracks and kinked rail joints. Thus, there are less men today.


The roundhouses were also used to inspect every car that went through them. My two uncles worked in the one they had here. That was part of their job. They told me that a couple weeks ago when we were talking about the train derailments. I don't know the terms that were used for these things for sure. But over the years they got rid of what they called unnecessary personal. That meant doing away with many things they now need today. I'm told that by friends and family that still work for the railroad and my uncles that worked for them. Working for the railroads was and still is a family tradition for two of my extended family's.

Maybe You're Wrong

Times change and technology marches on, lookout. Would it make you happy if the railroads still kept the roundhouses to spin the locomotives just for old time's sake?

Back in the day, mechanics used timing lights to adjust the ignition timing during a tune-up. That task has largely been replaced by sensors and a computer that adjusts this automatically. Do you insist that the mechanic get out the timing light every time your car goes in the shop just because that's the way they used to do it or is the constant monitoring by the OBD computer perhaps better?

lostinparadize offered a very good explanation as to how technology has changed the maintenance needs of rail cars and track. I have to believe sensors providing constant feedback to computers are more reliable than a couple of old-timers looking things over every x-thousand miles.


They don't need those things anymore, lookout. They have inspection systems that go far beyond visual inspections and periodic maintenance. There are vehicle mounted systems which inspect tracks with electromagnetic and ultrasonic sensors which can detect flaws much better than a guy in a putt-putt.

I have a client that manufactures such systems. They have one that mounts on a truck that can measure track and detect defects while the truck is doing 40+ MPH.


Crank. Where is your hero wanker hiding ??? My clients tell me he is hiding at a Koch party.


these cars were first reported as carrying denatured alcohol.


My question, too...first it was just ethanol and now it is reported as alcohol (ethanol) and gasoline mixture. These cars should not be allowed on the many miles of track that run adjacent too and in many cases on embankments right in the middle of the Mississippi River such as between Trempealeau and Winona...We cannot risk dumping thousands and thousands of gallon of anything, let alone Bakken crude, into the Mississippi River!!!

Melowese Richardson

The cars were carrying ethanol. As I understand it, the ethanol is required to have a small percentage of gasoline mixed with it to lower the the volatility of the liquid.


Let's have trucks full of this stuff driving by our schools and down the highway all day.
Are you people on crack
This is the safest way to move it. End of story.

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