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Senate Hearing Focuses On Rail Safety

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First responder officials told a US Senate hearing this week that large cities and small towns are not ready for a derailment disaster on the scale of the one that happened last year in Quebec. In that incident, part of the town was destroyed and 47 people died.

This hearing was the second on Capitol Hill this year that wanted the perspective of local officials. The US government regulates all rail shipments, but emergency responses are handled by local agencies.

Worry of a large crude oil train disaster has hung over many towns across the country since the crash last July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Firefighters simply did not have the training or the equipment to deal with the ferocity of the resulting fire.

According to one fire chief from Maine named Tim Pellerin, his department can handle routine emergencies. But ‘we’re not prepared for a disaster like this.’

Big city fire departments have more personnel and equipment, but a large threat such as the Quebec derailment would be a big challenge for them as well.

According to Barb Graff, director of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, three fully loaded crude oil trains go through Seattle every week. That could increase to three per day when refineries are expanded to accommodate the increased supply.

She noted that there is an imbalance where the hazard is increased but the ability of the community to deal with the hazard is not.

The hearing, which was held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, was led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Pellerin’s department was one of the seven from Maine that helped during the Lac-Megantic fire. He noted that his radios were incompatible with Canadian ones, and their fire hose couplings did not match. The Maine firefighters also had to rely on an interpreter because their colleagues in Quebec only spoke French.

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