Potentially deadly oil trains find one NE town looking for help

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Given the city of Omaha’s multi-multi million dollar pension shortfall and a $421 million Omaha Public Schools’ fixer-upper bond issue, $50,000 doesn’t sound like a big deal.

Yutan, along with towns like Lyons and Lincoln, is on the BNSF route carrying Bakken oil through Nebraska.

But in Yutan, Nebraska, a 40 minute drive from downtown Omaha, firefighters fear that $50,000 is the difference between life—possibly a lot of lives— and death.

“We’re starting to make some plans in case there’s a derailment,” Yutan Fire Chief Paul Rupp tells Nebraska Watchdog.

Rupp, along with nearly half a million folks in 11 eastern Nebraska counties, found out eight weeks ago what top state officials had known for several months: Millions of gallons of dangerous and potentially deadly oil train shipments hauled by Burlington Northern Santa Fe—critics call them “bomb trains— are traveling through their backyards every week.

After initially claiming the train routes were a security concern, a concern disputed by federal officials, on Sept. 30 the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency released the trains’ travel plans.

Courtesy Yutan VFD

Yutan’s all volunteer department provides fire protection, emergency medical services and water rescue for the city of Yutan and surrounding areas.

At that time NEMA also announced, “Emergency response plans are in place at the State and Local level.”

But in Yutan—population 1,200— Chief Rupp needs help, “We’re looking for foam.”

Special foam for fighting oil fires—they don’t have it now and never have—along with equipment and training will cost a “minimum $50,000.” It’s money Rupp hopes BNSF will cut loose through a grant he’s asking the rail-giant to OK.

In the meantime BNSF spokesman Andy Williams tells Nebraska Watchdog the railroad is ready to react “if an incident occurs.”

Nebraska Watchdog: What steps, if any, has BNSF taken to make sure the Nebraska towns along the route are prepared to deal with a “significant event?”

Andy Williams: BNSF has specialized equipment and more than 200 BNSF hazmat responders at locations across our network to address hazmat and crude oil incidents including equipment in Lincoln. This BNSF effort is supported by a network of BNSF contract emergency and environmental responders intended to execute a rapid and well-coordinated response with local agencies.

But again Rupp—he’s been fire chief a year and on the all-volunteer department 19 years—insists Yutan isn’t ready. He’s seeing more trains, some carrying oil, some not, than ever before—he’s been stopped five times in one day, just running errands. In addition the trains run within 700 feet of two schools, Yutan’s elementary and high school.

“We just want to be somewhat prepared,” says Rupp.

“It’s going to be a huge response needed not only from the railroad but from the local communities.”

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org.

Joe can be heard on Omaha’s KFAB radio every Monday morning at 7:40, KLIN in Lincoln every Tuesday morning at 7:35 and KHAS-AM in Hastings every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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