Incredible response, and luck, kept fiery train derailment in check in Raymond, Minnesota
State and federal lawmakers toured the site Friday of the BNSF train derailment in Raymond.
RAYMOND — Just over two weeks before Thursday’s fiery derailment of 22 BNSF Railway rail cars in Raymond, firefighters from the community participated in a training on how to respond to incidents just like this one.
That training helped make a difference, according to Raymond Mayor Ardell Tensen and Fire Chief Brian Neal. The firefighters knew very quickly they were not going to be able to "just put this one out," and instead focused on preventing its spread as well as evacuating those at risk, the chief told the West Central Tribune.
The firefighters were among those receiving the applause of U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, as well as U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach and State Sen. Andrew Lang at a news conference Friday after the elected officials toured the site of the derailment.
“I can tell you what, folks. We were very lucky on this one that the train didn’t derail right in town where there are all these huge grain bins and all these other items that could have been catastrophically affected,” said Sen. Lang at the conference. “So we were very lucky.”
“There was some luck but there was also a lot of incredible work that contained the derailment,” said Klobuchar while also addressing reporters. She told reporters that it was “pretty shocking” to see the burned out rail cars.
The 22 cars that left the tracks held corn syrup and ethanol. The cars holding the ethanol are known as J117 cars and considered state-of-the-art for reducing the risk of explosion.
The elected officials said officials with the BNSF Railway told them they were hopeful of having the rail line reopened to train traffic within 48 hours. That came with a caveat. Anticipated blizzard conditions could delay the work to remove the cars and rebuild the rail.
There were more than 100 workers on the site Friday, and large trucks and machinery were lined up at the site and in adjacent areas of the community.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board were on the site of the derailment as the elected officials briefed reporters shortly before noon Friday. They are investigating the cause of the derailment. They were expected to give the go-ahead later in the day Friday for removing the rail cars, according to the lawmakers.
No one was injured in the derailment, and there is no danger to the public of exposure to toxic substances, the officials reported.
Smith and Klobuchar said they are optimistic that federal legislation being considered in the wake of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, will be approved. It will increase safety standards and inspections, they said.
Sen. Smith cited the importance of rail traffic to rural Minnesota and the agriculture economy, but said improved safety standards are needed. There are more than 1,000 train derailments in the country each year, she said.
All of the elected officials took time to praise what they described as the “incredible” response of firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders, as well as how people and area communities joined to help.
“Southwest Minnesota came together on this,” said Lang.
Agriculture is critical to Raymond’s economy, and the community is situated on a busy rail line. Mayor Tensen said the community averages one train every hour and a half each day. Willmar is the second busiest rail yard in Minnesota, second only to Minneapolis, he said.
That’s why the mayor, who is among the town’s 21 volunteer firefighters, pointed to the importance of that previous training on derailments.
Fire Chief Neal said he was in immediate contact with partners in the Willmar Fire Department at the time of the derailment. They were able to quickly learn from the BNSF Railway what the derailed train was hauling. The information was important in knowing how best to respond, he said.
Neal was paged to the derailment and literally drove by the flaming cars as he drove to the fire hall. He knew the magnitude of the blaze and said firefighters realized immediately that they needed to contain the blaze and cool down other rail cars to prevent it from expanding.
Firefighters from Raymond and Willmar were joined by crews and equipment from 26 other departments in battling the blaze.
“That is what it is about in rural Minnesota,” said Rep. Fischbach while addressing reporters. “When you are in need, your family and friends and neighbors come to help.”