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Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Al Franken

Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Al Franken

As U.S. senators — one from Minnesota and one from Wisconsin — we have always understood how important railroads are to the economy in each of our states. Our businesses and farmers rely upon rail service as a reliable way to move their products to markets across the country and around the world.

But we’ve heard from residents and local officials who have deep concerns about the dramatic expansion of rail cars carrying highly volatile and flammable crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through Minnesota and Wisconsin to refineries in other states.

While the quick growth in oil trains has meant higher profits for the large railroads, and skyrocketing tax revenues for the state of North Dakota, it also has put hundreds of communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin at risk for the explosive crashes that come when an oil train derails.

In the past seven months, there have been at least six serious oil train crashes in North America — including a fiery explosion in North Dakota that forced the evacuation of a small town. Another train carrying Bakken oil exploded in Quebec a few years ago, killing 47 people.

We are thankful our states have not experienced similar tragic crashes, but with hundreds of thousands of residents in our states living within a half mile of tracks carrying oil trains, we know we can’t allow the safety of our communities to be simply a matter of luck. That’s why for more than a year, we’ve taken an all-of-the-above approach to ensure oil trains travel more safely.

In August, when the Senate passed a bipartisan transportation bill, we pushed to include provisions to safeguard communities along oil train routes by requiring that railroads develop plans to quickly respond to oil-spill accidents. The bill also requires that carriers make oil train information available to local first responders so that they are aware when such trains are traveling through their communities. And finally, for the first time, it would give state and local officials access to inspection reports for private bridges owned by the railroads.

Beyond legislation, we’ve also pressed the railroads as well as federal transportation and safety officials to protect communities along rail lines from oil train dangers. And while we’ve already seen some good steps implemented to improve safety, it’s clear that more needs to be done.

First, we’ve called for safer tank cars, and for the rerouting of trains that are carrying this highly explosive oil through populated areas. We’ve also pressed to make sure that the volatility of the crude itself is reduced to make it safer before it’s loaded onto the trains.

In response to our calls for action, the U.S. Department of Transportation has taken some useful steps to help keep our communities safe. In May, it announced new standards for trains carrying flammable fuels.

The rules require that new tank cars have thicker shells and other improvements to make them safer in the event of a derailment. And within five years, all trains carrying crude will have to meet this standard. While this is a step in the right direction, we can’t slow-walk the rollout of safer tank cars, and we will continue to push to make this happen more quickly.

We also know that the light crude oil passing through our states each day from North Dakota is much more volatile than heavier crudes produced elsewhere. That’s why we’ve supported efforts to reduce the volatility before it is shipped through our states.

Producers can actually condition the crude at the well, where they can get rid of much of the volatile natural gas liquids. In fact, in April, the state of North Dakota started requiring them to do just that. But we’ll be pushing our federal regulators to reduce volatility even further to make sure we get the strongest possible protections for people in our states.

The new federal rules also include requirements to reduce operating speeds and to improve routing decisions so that when oil trains can avoid the most populated areas, they do.

We also want local officials and first responders to have as much information as possible about oil being shipped through their communities. While the new rules require railroads to share information about oil shipments, that information often doesn’t make it to local communities. Because of that, we’ve urged DOT to strengthen disclosure requirements. The DOT has responded with a promise to do just that.

Railroad service is an important part of our states’ transportation infrastructure and is critical to our economy. That’s why we’ll continue to do everything we can to safeguard communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin from the dangers posed by the unprecedented expansion of volatile crude oil being shipped through our states.

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Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate; Tammy Baldwin representsWisconsin in the U.S. Senate.

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(15) comments

LesTrafik

Nothing in here about cleaning the tanker cars and where.

So what is the purpose of a 2nd track? The big money trend with railroads is the temporary storage of these dirty oily tanker cars, where—in part-- the 2nd track acts like the old multi-rail storage yards stretched out lengthwise. The crude caked on the outside of the tankers is sitting fuel for swift raging fires (small town in Quebec) & potential deadly runoff (trout stream in northern NY). The longer the tanker cars sit, the greater the hazard they represent to villages, local ecologies.

Teetotaler

Two hysterical moonbats fear-mongering for political capital.

OldSarg

If you want to fix your explosive train issue back a pipeline. It's safer, more economic and environmentally cleaner.

Old Bowhunter

Al Frankin, who would have thought there were that many stupid people in Minnesota to vote for a New York City carpet bagging liberal!

oldhomey

Carpet Bagger, Old Bow? He moved to Minneapolis with his parents when he was a schoolboy and graduated from high school in Minneapolis. How do you reckon what constitutes a carpet bagger? Your arrows seem to be flying far off the mark.

Old Bowhunter

And spent his entire adult life in New York. He only ran in MN because he knew the twin cities libs would go gaga over a big celebrity. He knows nothing about MN life. Bullseye I'd say!

oldhomey

As I read it, Norm Coleman, the Republican senator that Franken defeated in his first run for the seat, not only was born in Brooklyn, NY, he graduated from highs school there, college there and started law school there. He speaks with a think New York accent and ran and won the job as mayor of St. Paul as a Democrat. A political opportunist (carpet bagger?), he switched to Republican to win his Senate seat. I don't know where Franken laid his head down most nights of the year, but for a decade at least before he ran for the Senate he was deeply involved in the Minnesota Democratic (DFL) party, was a sort of acolyte of Sen. Paul Wellstone before Wellstone died in a plane crash (which is when Brooklyn-accented Coleman won the Senate seat). Franken spent a lot of time laying griound work for his Senate run. He won his second election by a landslide, even though he has carefully avoided all celebrity trappings since being in the Senate. Carpet bagger? You aimed at the wrong target.

Old Bowhunter

So they were both carpet baggers, still a bullseye as I see it!

easy

It's a horse apiece, I think the charge can be made, and who's right? But he did leave Minnesota for thirty years, during which he was indeed an active liberal, but on the national scale, which is why he was perfect choice for the Democratic party to pick to run against Coleman.

He pretty much was picked and operates as an automatic 'yes' vote for the party.

As far as the job he is doing, that's all opinion too. I am more impressed (somewhat) than I expected him to be, but he's not been any ball of fire either (like Ron Johnson on the other side).

But he will win his next election handily, there's no competition to be seen.

And Russ Feingold will probably be the next Senator.

oldhomey

I find you all too charitable on behalf of the near-sighted archer, easy. I certainly hope you are being sarcastic about Ron Johnson's ball of fire record and will accept it as sarcasm unless you inform me otherwise. The Senate is a place steeped in tradition, and upstart newcomers who loudly try to jump the line to make themselves look good are pretty summarily put down by the veterans of both parties, as well they should. Franken has proceeded in the time-honored tradition of doing his homework, keeping his mouth shut mostly, learning the ropes of the institution. Now a second termer, he is beginning to flex his political muscle a little bit, as well he should. There will not be any "probably" involved with Russ Feingold becoming the next senator from Wisconsin. He was one of the best senators we've had in the last half century, and he will be one again. He is the best argument there is against term limits, another right wing smokescreen to let money run the government.

Clarification

Big money backs rolling bombs. So what if a few peasants get hurt once in a while?

random annoying bozo

yes 'big money' does like railroads....case in point, warren buffet, the darling of the left.

free

Ron? You mean "Captain Obvious"?

wakeup

One-quarter of La Crosse residents live and/or work in an oil train blast zone. Time for the feds to rein in railroads and time for people and communities to become more important than railroad profits! Attend the next emergency management meetings on oil bomb trains Wed 9/16 at Logan HS or Tues 9/22 at Central HS. Both meetings start at 7 pm.

tower

Ron? Ron? Where art thou Ron? Probably hiding in the Senate cloak room.

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