Archived Story

Dayton, union push for rail safety

Published 9:34am Friday, February 7, 2014

By David Shaffer

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday proposed initiatives to enhance railroad safety on the same day that rail workers protested Canadian Pacific’s safety practices by picketing its U.S. headquarters in Minneapolis.

The governor announced through his press secretary that he will urge legislative leaders to hold hearings on the United Transportation Union’s reports of deteriorating safety conditions at Canadian Pacific — allegations the company flatly denied.

Dayton coincidentally met Thursday with a cabinet-level panel he formed in response to recent oil train disasters. The governor’s press secretary, Matt Swenson, said Dayton just became aware of the union’s safety concerns, which focus mostly on intensified operations at Twin Cities rail yards.

“He wants the cabinet members to look into these concerns,” Swenson told the Star Tribune in an interview.

Swenson also said the Dayton administration is working on proposed rail safety legislation to present in the upcoming session. It could include expanding the number of state rail inspectors — Minnesota currently has just one — and additional emergency management training, he said.

Those proposals grew out of concerns over accidents like the deadly crash of an oil train on a short-line railroad in Quebec last July and the derailment and explosion of a BNSF Railway Co. oil train Dec. 30 a mile west of Casselton, N.D.

As the late-morning temperature hovered around zero, about 35 members of the United Transportation Union (UTU), which represents conductors, switchmen, yard masters and engineers, marched around the U.S. headquarters of Canadian Pacific in downtown Minneapolis carrying signs that said “Railroad Safety = Public Security!”

UTU State Director Phillip Qualy said the Canadian Pacific has offered “no effective response” to the safety concerns. The union has sent letters detailing its issues to public officials and railroad executives.

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