U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act today to help local first responders in the event of a train derailment or fuel spill.
"The amount of oil being shipped through Wisconsin is skyrocketing, along with the risk of derailments and spills that could endanger entire communities," said Rep. Kind. "This bill would bring needed support to our local first responders so they can react quickly and effectively in case of an emergency."
The RESPONSE Act would establish a subcommittee under FEMA's National Advisory Council that would bring together agencies, technical experts, emergency responders and the private sector to review training, resources, best practices, and unmet needs related to emergency responders to railroad incidents. With the upcoming expansion of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation (BNSF) Railway through Rep. Kind's district, crude oil transportation has become an increasingly serious safety concern.
The group would provide recommendations to Congress within one year on emergency responder training and resource allocation, addressing quality of training, funding levels, emergency response plans, the development of a train incident database, and improving the flow of information to local first responders.
The crude oil traffic on major freight railroads in the U.S. has grown by more than 6,000 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to the American Association of Railroads. Many large cities, states and the federal government have the training, capability and resources to respond to a hazmat incident on our railways, but in many communities it's the local police, fire and medical personnel who are the first to arrive on the scene to secure the area and keep neighborhoods safe.
"Just recently we had a train accident and fuel spill in southeastern Wisconsin, in the middle of a populated area. This collaborative effort will help ensure that communities of all sizes are protected here at home and around the country," concluded Rep. Kind. "But more work remains, like enhancing track inspections, upgrading train tracks, and increasing transparency so the public knows what's being transported on our rails."
Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) is a co-sponsor of the bill. A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).