Minnesota’s public safety agencies are better prepared than they were just two years ago for an accident that involves a train hauling hazardous materials, a new report from the Department of Public Safety asserts.
Delivered Thursday to the House Transportation Finance Committee, the report follows-up on an initial 2015 assessment of the ability of local agencies along oil train routes to respond to a derailment, collision or other potentially catastrophic incident.
Mandated by rail safety legislation passed in 2014, the report offers a number of recommendations for better preparing agencies — key among them more support for drills and exercises with local public safety first responders.
“Exercises test plans and, most importantly, offer opportunities” to improve upon those plans, said Joe Kelly, director of the department’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.
The report proposes creating a grant program to help local agencies fund drills and exercises and to provide experts to support that training.
Public safety officials told lawmakers the department and local agencies have made strides since the 2014 oil train safety law in fully understanding their weaknesses in responding to accidents involving the transport of oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials — of which, Kelly stressed, there are very few.
“We all better understand the hazards of the transportation of these materials,” he said.
Other department recommendations laid out in the report include:
In addition to steps taken by public safety agencies over the past two years, Kelly credited the state’s railroad carriers. Their efforts and investments have helped keep the number of incidents low, he said.
“I think they want the same thing we do,” Kelly said. “They want hazardous material to get from point A to point B uninterrupted” and to keep Minnesota communities safe.
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