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Minnesota Senate committee advances bill requiring new emergency response training for rail accidents

State lawmakers want to create new train safety rules
State lawmakers want to create new train safety rules 01:56

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In wake of the train derailment in western Minnesota, state lawmakers are considering new rules to make sure all emergency responders are prepared to respond if there is a similar accident in their communities. 

Legislation that advanced out of the Senate Transportation Committee Friday requires new training on rail incidents involving oil or other hazardous materials, including practicing potential scenarios. It also mandates that if disaster strikes, rail carriers must notify local officials within 15 minutes if there is any dangerous cargo on board.

The train in Raymond was clear of toxic substances, but supporters say it puts the spotlight on safety.

"While rail transportation and pipelines play an important role in our economy, we need to ensure that the Minnesota communities that they pass through have the proper knowledge and tools to protect life and property," said Sen. Robert Kupec, DFL-Moorhead.

Gabe Tweten, the emergency manager for Clay County, told lawmakers that more emergency preparedness planning for rail accidents would be beneficial.

RELATED: From 2018 through 2022, there were 60 train derailments in Minnesota

He said he feels undertrained on how to respond to that situation, even though there are "heavily traveled" rail routes in his community.

"The incident that happened in Kandiyohi County yesterday—this is the thing that keeps myself and other emergency managers up at night," he said. "As an emergency manager, I feel [the bill] establishes sensible and reasonable training requirements that not only should be doable for rail companies, but also our emergency services, which in many parts of the state is made up of volunteers."

Provisions in the proposal also empower emergency managers or the state commissioner of public safety to request information from rail companies about the types of hazardous material transported through a community in the prior calendar year, as another planning tool.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, noted that the hearing was already planned before Thursday's train derailment and that this legislation was already in the works, but the incident "just kind of highlights the importance of the subject."

There's a separate bill mandating crews of at least two people per train. That mirrors language in a federal rail safety bill that DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others are working on.

A large transportation funding package also includes resources to have more state rail inspectors on staff. The new training plan approved by the committee Friday could be included in that omnibus bill before the session ends.

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