Train derailment in West Virgina causes local concern

La Crosse Fire Department says it is prepared to handle an oil spill

A major rail disaster in West Virginia is highlighting the need for first responders in the Coulee Region to be prepared.

A train carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil went off the tracks Monday forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

With a second track potentially coming through La Crosse, some are concerned these train derailments are becoming far too common.

The second track through La Crosse has many believing rail traffic will increase and more crude oil will be funneled through the city.

More and more train incidents has not only residents, but also La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat concerned.

The La Crosse Fire Department said it obviously doesn’t want any accidents to happen, but if they do, the department is ready to handle it.

Another train coming off the tracks, spilling millions of gallons of oil, tells folks around La Crosse rail safety and oil tanker standards need to be addressed.

“The impacts of any kind of mistake or derailment could be huge and that does worry me as mayor,” Kabat said.

“It’s another example of the importance of pressing for railway safety,” said Ralph Knudson, a member of the group Citizens Acting For Rail Safety.

However, the La Crosse Fire Department isn’t focused on tanker standards, because firefighters are busy learning what they need to do in case of an accident in their city.

“If there is a possibility that it might happen, we need to be prepared for it,” said Greg Temp, division chief with the La Crosse Fire Department.

Temp said all La Crosse firefighters are trained, to a certain point, on how to handle an oil spill.

“They are trained to respond to a chemical event and protect a life, start to isolate the incident and gather our equipment,” Temp said.

The department’s hazardous materials team also has extra training.

“There’s some training specifically on rail cars — the different types of cars, the different types of valves and fitting that you can expect to find on them — how to do a good damage assessment on a car, and then how to take care of problems that occur with rail cars,” Temp said.

While the disaster in West Virginia may be hundreds of miles away from La Crosse, it still hits close to home.

“You want to be as prepared as possible, but, ideally, you just hope it doesn’t happen here,” Kabat said.

Temp said an incident, like a train derailment, can look overwhelming to someone without any training, but firefighters go into the situation with a list of priorities, which is why they are able to get the job done.

The incident in West Virgina did not involve BNSF Railway — the company looking to put a second rail line in La Crosse. However, it did release this statement to News 8 saying in part: “BNSF has been working with first responders in La Crosse through community hazmat training sessions and by providing tuition and travel expenses for them to attend the national training center for specialized crude by rail training.”