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Railroads companies hesitant to make emergency plans public

Minnesota residents should be interested to know that at least 300,000 people in the state have homes that are in close proximity to railroad tracks that are used to transport crude oil. With close being a relative term, in this instance it means within a half-mile radius. This means that the homes and railroad tracks are close enough to be potentially adversely and dangerously impacted if a disaster were to take place and a tanker train car carrying crude oil were to derail and explode.

In an effort to alleviate public fears, lawmakers enacted legislation that would require the railroad companies to put together emergency response plans to deal with potential disaster scenarios if such an event were to occur.

Though the railroad companies claim to have complied with the law, the public and the lawmakers themselves have not been able to get access to a copy of any such plans to evaluate their effectiveness. The railroads have thus far and after a major public outcry, only allowed local emergency officials to scrutinize the plans in their entirety. One of the reasons is that the railroad companies have claimed that making this information public would allow sensitive information to become public, which could make it easy for individuals to sabotage railroads.

Recently, however, after a Minnesota Public Radio News agency filed a data practices request with the railroads they were given access to the complete emergency disaster plans. Nevertheless, not all the railroad companies participated or honored the request.

Only three of the five railroads operating in the state complied and submitted the complete un-redacted copies. In the plans, bridges that crossed over St. Louis and the Mississippi river as well as the St. Croix Rivers were highlighted as potential locations of high risk and worst case scenarios. Where transport of dangerous and hazardous material transport via rail directly affects the health and safety of Minnesota residents, people have a right to know what is being transported, what measure are place in address spills and incidents and the like.

Source: MPR News, "Railroads balk at making oil disaster plans public," Tim Pugmire, Aug. 25, 2015

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