Senators concerned over expansion of oil trains in Minnesota, Wisconsin

Two U.S. senators are calling for federal laws to force railroads to provide real-time notification to cities on hazardous shipments.

Sen. Al Franken and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin held a very rare cross-state roundtable on the potential dangers of oil train routes Wednesday.

Concerns arose after two tanker cars in North Dakota exploded earlier this year, forcing the evacuation of an entire town.

A new Minnesota Department of Transportation study showed 326,000 Minnesotans live within evacuation zones along oil train routes.

"We've been lucky here in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin not to see these kinds of fatalities,” Franken said. “But we don't want all of this to depend upon luck."

At least five to seven trains run through Minnesota each day and just as many run through Wisconsin.

People in different cities across the state are also concerned about the hazards these trains post by blocking crossings. Coon Rapids Fire Department Chief John Piper said the long oil trains mean long delays in firefighter and ambulance response times, typically as much as six extra minutes, but sometimes more.

"That's the best case scenario,” Piper said. “We've had delays of 25-30 minutes in worst case scenarios; I mean that has significant impacts on public safety response times in Coon Rapids."

The Senate just passed a transportation bill that called for in part more railroad transparency especially on bridge safety.  But that bill has failed to pass the House. Franken said he hopes to get a second shot at it.