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Congressman proposes communication and coordination for railroad accidents and spills

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSAU) -- Railroad service and safety issues have prompted a Wisconsin Congressman to get involved. 3rd District Democrat Ron Kind has co-authored the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation Act, also called the RESPONSE Act.

Kind says the huge increase in oil shipments from the Dakotas means more potential for fires and explosions from a derailment, so he wants to make sure railroads are continuing to keep the tracks safe.  “I think additional oversight may be necessary because, you know, the bottom line is the bottom line, and many companies do tend to cut corners in order to save costs, and in this instance, it could cost lives.”

More Bakken oil and more frac sand shipments mean more heavy trains, and Kind is concerned about track and equipment maintenance.  “There is going to be more wear and tear. I think the increase in volume of Bakken (oil) and frac sand has growing exponentially, and you still have the grain demand and the coal demand that’s competing with that space on the track.”

Kind says the heavy demand for oil and sand trains is causing some problems for shipping other products and materials.  “I’ve heard from a lot of farmers in Wisconsin who are growing more anxious about their ability to get product to market, and be able to ship that grain, especially over to the river, to transport it south, and it’s becoming harder and more expensive for them to do it by rail just because of the Bakken oil competition.”

Some other railroad issues have been brought to the attention of lawmakers. Kind says he has heard from some smaller communities that fear they might lose their railroad service because the railroad doesn’t consider the line feasible.  “There have been inquiries that I’ve received recently about that concern growing in northern Wisconsin. I think we’ve got to look into it. I think we’ve got to reach out to the railroad to find out why these decisions are being made, although at the end of the day, the government can’t force a private entity to have to do something and continue service in an area if they can’t economically maintain it.”

The RESPONSE Act was introduced last week in the House of Representatives. If signed into law, it would establish a subcommittee under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to bring together agencies, experts, local first responders, and the private sector to handle spill and derailment or crash scenes.

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