'Incredible' response — and luck — kept fiery train derailment in check
State and federal lawmakers on Friday toured the site of the BNSF train derailment in Raymond
RAYMOND, Minn. — Just over two weeks ago, area firefighters trained on how to respond to incidents just like Thursday's fiery derailment of 22 BNSF Railway cars in Raymond.
That training made a difference, according to Raymond Mayor Ardell Tensen and Fire Chief Brian Neal. The firefighters realized 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 fire 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,” Lang said. “So we were very lucky.”
“There was some luck, but there was also a lot of incredible work that contained the derailment,” Klobuchar said, addressing reporters.
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 BNSF Railway officials told them they hoped to have the rail line reopened to train traffic within 48 hours. But 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 site Friday, and large trucks and machinery were lined up in adjacent areas of the community.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board were at the site investigating the cause of the derailment as the elected officials briefed reporters. They were expected to give the go-ahead later Friday to remove 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, they 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.
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 help from the community.
“Southwest Minnesota came together on this,” Lang said.
Agriculture is critical to Raymond’s economy, and the community is situated on a busy rail line. 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 training.
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 BNSF Railway what the train was hauling. That information was important in knowing how best to respond, he said.
Firefighters from Raymond and Willmar were joined by crews and equipment from 26 other departments.
“That is what it is about in rural Minnesota,” Fischbach said. “When you are in need, your family and friends and neighbors come to help.”