ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday moved up state inspections of all rail lines carrying crude oil through the Twin Cities.
The Democratic governor on Wednesday said BNSF railroad did not properly notify the state that it is transporting highly flammable crude oil from North Dakota through downtown Minneapolis while it reconstructs railroad tracks elsewhere.
Minnesota is a national crossroads for train traffic coming out of the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Between 11 and 23 oil trains a week are rolling through the heart of the Twin Cities in October — double the previous count. That’s including several that run under Target Field, through downtown Minneapolis and past the University of Minnesota.
An irritated Gov. Mark Dayton said 99,000 people live along and near the areas of the substantially increased oil train traffic, which he said increases the chances of an oil train explosion.
“And I’m not trying to scare people, but its a fact of life that they have occurred,” he said.
The railroad says it diverted oil trains through the Twin Cities while it repairs and replaces other parts of the railroad.
BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth is defending what she said is a “strong safety record”:
“We reduce risk and increase safety through daily track inspections, the placement of additional track side detectors to monitor rail car conditions and by operating at slower speeds,” she said.
Minnesota state officials are worried about a repeat of the oil train explosion two years ago near Fargo, but this time in the heavily populated Twin Cities.
Dayton ordered immediate inspections of rail lines carrying the increased traffic, and 63 grade crossings up and down the line from Willmar to Minneapolis.
“And we’ll do everything we can to assure Minnesotans that they continue to be safe,” he said.
In the last several years the state has beefed up emergency response training and built four regional emergency centers. BNSF and other railroads say they’re putting hundreds of millions of dollars of their own into rail improvements.
The two railroads hauling crude oil, BNSF and Canadian Pacific, are rolling up to 60 trains a week from North Dakota through Minnesota, some of them 100 cars long.
State officials estimate 450,000 people live within a half mile of the tracks, where the trains are carrying oil shipments.
BNSF responded in the following written statement:
“BNSF Railway has a comprehensive safety program in place that allows it to safely move all commodities on all of our routes, including through the Twin Cities, and enhanced protocols for the movement of hazardous materials. We have a strong safety record and we continually work to improve it further.
During their discussion Thursday morning, the governor told BNSF Railway CEO Carl Ice that he appreciated BNSF’s efforts to improve safety and the significant investments we are making in our infrastructure in the state.
“On the route in question and all routes where we’re moving crude oil, like through the Twin Cities region, we reduce risk and increase safety through daily track inspections, the placement of additional trackside detectors to monitor rail car conditions and by operating at slower speeds.
“For more than a year, BNSF has been notifying the state on crude volumes of a certain size and their routes and when they change by 25 percent. That includes notifications of crude oil shipped on this route in particular.
Volumes and routes can fluctuate for a number of reasons. In this case, BNSF has a major expansion project underway and reroutes for some traffic to accommodate that construction. In this morning’s call, BNSF CEO Carl Ice discussed BNSF’s ongoing efforts to safely move crude oil, as well as expansion projects to better serve customers in the state, and that BNSF will continue to notify the administration of significant changes in traffic and routes for crude oil.”