Study Says Dubuque County at Risk for Another Rail Oil Spill

May 6, 2016

A recent Iowa rail safety study says Dubuque County remains vulnerable to crude oil or biofuels spills more than a year after several railcars carrying ethanol derailed along the Mississippi River.

The state’s Department of Transportation and Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department released the study last week, the Telegraph Herald reports. It examines each county’s oil and ethanol transportation routes and volumes, previous incidence of spills, derailment and fire, likelihood of future incidents and public safety and environmental risk factors.

Dubuque County is one of several in eastern Iowa said to face a “high” risk.

Clayton, Delaware and Jackson counties each have a “medium” risk, and Jones County doesn’t have railroads carrying crude oil or biofuels.

Dubuque Fire Chief Rick Steines said that Dubuque County is especially vulnerable because of the amount of ethanol and crude oil that passes through the county as well as the number of streams and residents close to rail lines.

“There are a lot of counties with just one rail line moving ethanol, but we have two,” Steines said. “Going through downtown Dubuque, as opposed to a rural area, makes it much harder to do an evacuation. There’s a lot more people potentially affected.”

According to the study, more than 27 percent of the county’s 96,000-plus residents live within a half-mile of its 62 miles of active railroads, which see about seven crude oil and ethanol trains every day. Plus, many of the rail lines follow 26 miles of environmentally sensitive waterways and streams.

Several Canadian Pacific railcars derailed in February 2015 near Sherrill, releasing about 51,000 gallons of ethanol.

Tri-state emergency management officials say progress has been made to improve training, planning, communication and equipment for such situations.

“We’ve worked with the railroads and developed a plan when an incident might happen,” Steines said. “Preparation-wise, we’ve done what we can do.”

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