Train derailment: Minnesota lawmakers to consider proposal increasing rail safety standards

Minnesota lawmakers watched as a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in eastern Ohio last month and decided to take a closer look at rail safety in their own state. The same conversations are happening on Capitol Hill.

A proposal sponsored by Sen. Rob Kupec centers around emergency response planning and rail safety training. The bill, which is set to be heard in committee Friday, spells out specific guidelines railroads have to follow, such as requiring them to contact first responders within 15 minutes of an incident involving oil or other hazardous substances.

"The first responders need to know: What's in this train? What are we dealing with? Because how they respond to that will vary depending on what's being carried chemically. So it could be that it's either life or property threatened, and that first few moments of an accident are really the most crucial," said Sen. Rob Kupec, DFL-Moorhead.

Kupec said the train derailment in Ohio in February inspired Minnesota lawmakers to revisit a previous proposal they'd worked on, not knowing that less than two months later a derailment would happen in their own backyard.

"It does, I think, speak to the fact that these accidents are occurring," Kupec said. "There's a lot of things going through on trains and we just need to make sure we're prepared with if something does go wrong.

Federal data shows between 2018 and 2022, there were 60 train derailments in Minnesota, with reportable damage of nearly $11 million.

Federal lawmakers are also discussing how to make the rail industry safer. They introduced the bipartisan Railway Safety Act earlier this month. (insert link please:

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she believes Minnesota dodged a major hazard because the derailment in Raymond didn't involve toxic chemicals.

"I also know that we're just one more derailment away from other hazardous incident and so that's why we've got to get these safety standards in place," Klobuchar said.

The bipartisan proposal she supports would create stricter safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials and increase the frequency of rail car inspections. It would also mandate higher penalties if there is a derailment and require at least two workers on a train when they're over a mile long.

"When you have longer trains, it goes to stand to logic that just having one worker if you have something happens on the train is a pretty dangerous proposition. And that's why our bill calls for two workers," she explained.

Federal data shows since 1975, train derailments in Minnesota have resulted in 53 people being injured, but no one killed.