Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hazmat Rail Routes and the Mayo Clinic

According to a press release there is an interesting new look at routing of hazardous material railroad shipments being undertaken by an unusual organization, the Mayo Clinic. Actually it appears that the Mayo Clinic is the lead organization of a group known as the Rochester Coalition. They are opposing the acquisition of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad (DM&E) by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) because the CPR plans on running hazardous material railcars past their clinic in Rochester, MN.

"Opposing the DM&E acquisition" is not really an appropriate description of the actions of the Rochester Coalition. What they want the Surface Transportation Board to do is to approve the acquisition with some unusual conditions:

  • Consultation on how best to minimize project-related impacts to Mayo Clinic, including limited transportation of hazardous materials through Rochester.
  • Negotiate voluntary contractual limitations on the total number of through-traffic trains moving through Rochester with Mayo Clinic and the city of Rochester.
  • Regulatory/contractual speed limits on local hazardous materials traffic.
  • Multiple grade separations for specific in-city road crossings. These grade separated crossings should be designed and located to facilitate the movement of emergency vehicles to and from medical facilities providing emergency services in Rochester, including Saint Marys Hospital and Rochester Methodist Hospital, which are both Mayo Clinic hospitals.
  • Increased inspection and installation of wayside detectors, such as hot box/loose wheel detectors, to the west and east of Rochester to provide timely warning of potential problems prior to entering Rochester city limits.
  • Pre-notification for Rochester emergency services of hazmat cargo.
  • Whistle-free crossings for non-grade separated road crossings.

The interesting thing with this hazmat routing issue is the hazardous materials that the coalition is opposing. Not toxic by inhalation chemicals or nuclear waste, as is most often the case; the Mayo Clinic group is upset because of a "substantial increase in the projected number of carloads of ethanol" and "34 high-speed, coal-unit-trains" going through Rochester every day.

There are no indications in the Coalition’s press release of how likely it is that theSTB will apply their recommendations to the approval of the acquisition. Just based on the president that such an agreement would set, especially with the new routing regulation in the works, I would bet that the STB will not apply the recommended limitations. Having said that, you never can tell; the Mayo Clinic does carry some significant political weight.

In any case, this does bring an entirely new dimension to the discussion about routing hazardous rail shipments.

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