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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Rail Safety Reforms Clear Senate, Head to President’s Desk

Baldwin thanks Wisconsin advocates, first responders, local officials, and concerned citizens for input and efforts on reforms

Baldwin provisions improve safety, increase transparency, and require better communication between the railroads and local communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United States Senate voted 83-16 to approve a bipartisan, five-year transportation funding bill that includes several provisions championed by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin aimed at increasing safety and transparency along Wisconsin’s oil train routes. The legislation now heads to President Obama for his signature.

“I am so grateful to the advocates, first responders, local officials, and concerned citizens who have spoken out and demanded increased transparency, communication and accountability when it comes to keeping our Wisconsin communities along oil train routes safe,” said Senator Baldwin. “I have been sounding the alarm for two years on the need to put in place strong rail safety reforms and today we have taken major action to hold railroad companies accountable and protect Wisconsin’s citizens from the catastrophic consequences of these dangerous derailments.”  

“As a fire chief with 37 years of experience, I know that there is no substitute for advance notification. I applaud Senator Baldwin’s efforts to include these important safety reforms in the highway bill. This law will allow Wisconsin’s hazmat response teams like mine to better prepare for an oil train coming into our communities,” said La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland, La Crosse Hazmat Team Leader.

"We are pleased that the bill requires railroads transporting hazardous materials to inform first responders when they travel through their communities. I'd like to thank Senator Baldwin for her hard work on this important provision to better secure the safety of citizens nationwide," said International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger.

“I applaud Senator Baldwin’s efforts to improve oil train information sharing in the surface transportation bill. The senator’s provision provides first responders in Wisconsin—and across the country—the critical advance-notification information they need to keep their communities safe,” said City of Milwaukee Director of Emergency Management Steve Fronk.

Transparency: Currently, railroads do not have to provide bridge inspection reports to local officials—despite the obligation of local officials to protect their citizens and ensure the soundness of local infrastructure. Senator Baldwin’s provision would require a railroad to provide local officials a public version of the most recent bridge inspection report.

Real-Time Reporting: Currently, information about hazardous materials being carried through Wisconsin communities are only available to first responders after an incident has occurred. Senator Baldwin’s provision addresses concerns raised by the first responder community who would like real-time access to information about hazmat trains entering their jurisdictions in order to better prepare. Baldwin’s reform requires U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fusion Centers to provide real-time information to state and local first responders before a hazmat train arrives in their jurisdiction.

In addition, the bipartisan compromise includes provisions modeled after Senator Baldwin’s Crude-By-Rail Safety Act, which she introduced in March 2015.

Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans: The bipartisan legislation asks DOT provide a plan to implement as soon as possible rules to require railroads to improve their plans for responding to a worst-case oil discharge.

Rail Carrier Liability Study: The bipartisan bill requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to initiate a study on the appropriate levels of insurance for railroads carrying hazardous materials.

Read the full text of the bipartisan legislation here and a summary here.

For more on Senator Baldwin’s advocacy for Wisconsin rail safety click here.