Concerns about trains carrying hazardous materials through Wisconsin are prompting a new legislative push at the state Capitol.
A bill from state Representative Jill Billings (D-La Crosse) would require railroad operators to provide hazmat training to local fire department located along their lines. “The railroads go through the heart of many of our cities,” the La Crosse Democrat said, “and I’ve hear from citizens concerned over the possibility of a derailment and what we can do to make it as safe as possible.”
Introduction of the bill follows a pair of derailments earlier this fall, in which two trains jumped their tracks in separate incidents, spilling thousands of gallons of ethanol and crude oil. Billings said she had been working on the legislation for some time before those incidents though, due to increased traffic in recent years. “I think there’s a sense of heightened urgency…toward making sure that we are keeping our residents as safe as possible,” she said.
The legislation also calls for increasing the number of inspectors in the state railroad commissioner’s office and sets exact time requirement for how quickly operators must respond to a derailment. Billings said it’s just common sense to have clear protocols in place.
The Wisconsin Railroad Association has come out against the proposal. In a statement released earlier this fall, the group said the bill “duplicates many of the safety and preparedness protocols already in place within the railroad industry. It also adds an addition layer of government regulations on an industry already regulated at the federal level. The redundancies in this proposal increase costs to agriculture, manufacturing and retail in Wisconsin with no added public safety benefit.”
The bill, which has bipartisan support, is currently awaiting a committee hearing at the Capitol.