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Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

Train Cars Carrying Undocumented Hazardous Materials Pose Risks

By Minnesota Public Radio News - Prarie Business, September 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At least 18 times in the past three years BNSF Railway freight trains rolled west out of Minneapolis pulling cars filled with hazardous chemicals that were not on the trains’ official cargo list, according to train crew complaints.

That’s contrary to federal regulation because in case of an accident, local firefighters can be left in the dark, unable to take quick action to protect vulnerable residents.

In one case, a train traveled more than 20 miles through the western suburbs with six carloads of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic corrosive gas used as a farm fertilizer, before the train crew knew the chemical was on the train, a complaint said. In another, a complaint said a train traveled about 90 miles west to Willmar before its cargo list — called a manifest — was corrected to show an extra car of ammonia.

The complaints were filed with the Federal Railroad Administration, the federal agency that regulates railroads, and they provide a snapshot of one rail line across Minnesota, a BNSF Railway line from Minneapolis to Willmar. BNSF is the largest rail operator in Minnesota. Provided to MPR News by railroad union members, they are evidence of a problem the FRA said poses “unreasonable risks to health, safety and property.”

Hauling hazardous material without proper documentation is a problem federal officials have been aware of for years. When federal inspectors checked manifests of all rail haulers in Minnesota over a three-year period, one in five contained inaccurate information about cars hauling hazardous materials, according to FRA records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

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