Digging Deeper: Dangerous Railways - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Digging Deeper: Dangerous Railways


Crude oil, ethanol, fertilizer, ammonia and some materials not made public, are just some of the dangerous items that ride the rails in Siouxland.

Everything is okay as long as there isn't an accident or a leak.

But if there is, depending on the chemical, things could get really bad really quickly.

 So, what happens if there is a spill or an accident that could endanger you and you family?

Are first responders and the railroads ready?

It takes a team of people to keep the railways safe.

Railroad companies like Burlington Northern Santa Fe train all employees in railway safety.

"I think it's a combination of all the safety rules that we do have, we have a lot of good employees that are very cautious. They come to work and work safe every day. We have a lot of rules that they need to follow, rules that they do follow," says Shawn Koppelman, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Road Foreman of Engines.

And when there is an accident, BNSF personnel are ready to react.

"Absolutely. It might just be minor but, until you figure out what's going on and what's been involved, it's number one" says Koppelman.

But it's not just the railway companies who have to be ready in case of an emergency on the railways. 

"When it comes to hazardous materials there's a lot of things to get out of the way first," says Aesoph. 

Sioux City fire marshal mark Aesoph says  Training also helps prepare those who respond to an accident.

"Every first responder is trained at least to an awareness level. that includes everyone, police, fire, ambulance personnel, even the people out you know working for the county roads departments," says Mark Aesoph, Sioux City Fire Marshal. 

Aesoph says Sioux City has a special team that can respond to a train accident with any toxic chemicals.

But they cover a lot of territory.

The Sioux City Fire and Rescue HazMat Team covers approximately 13 counties in Northwest Iowa and a small portion of Nebraska.

And while that large area may cause you some concern, Aesoph says responding to a hazardous material call works differently than most emergency calls. 

"That typically means just evacuating people and containing what's going on with the scene. The technician level training really isn't used in the infancy of an incident such as that. All responders are trained to recognize that there's a hazardous material incident or the possibility of one here. Everybody kind of operates from the same playbook of let's get people moved first" says Aesoph.

So just what are first responders being trained to look out for?

 "That training involves being able to recognize different shapes of containers,  the transport vehicles that are typically used in hazardous materials situations, placarding  and labeling on the sides when you see the train going down the road and it's got the numbers on the side, that's what the training is for is to recognize that 'hey this could be a hazardous material incident'" says Aesoph.

So the railroads say they are ready, the hazardous materials team says they are ready, but what about the county emergency management agencies who help coordinate the response to any type of hazardous spill from a train?

"Depending on the details of the incident at the railway, we may or may not act differently. We are here as emergency management to be the conduit for resources when the local towns, maybe townships, run out of resources themselves" says Rebecca Socknat, Woodbury County Emergency Management Coordinator.     

Rebecca Socknat is the Woodbury county emergency management coordinator.

She adds her voice to the railroad and the hazmat team, planning ahead for any crisis is necessary.

Socknat says Woodbury County Emergency Management has plans already set in place should anything go wrong.

Moving hazardous materials through Siouxland is a well-orchestrated event that involves many moving parts.

Everyone from the employees on the tracks to emergency management, to all local fire departments, are in the loop on all hazardous materials passing through. 

But it's not always that easy. 

"A lot of the tanker cars, even though they may have a certain railway logo on it, they may be leased out and the rail company doesn't actually know what's in there," says Socknat.

And if there is an accident, they have experts they can call on.

"If it's a large enough incident maybe with ammonia tankers, cars then we would activate the emergency operations center, where we're located now,  and bring in individuals that have an expertise in certain areas. Then we help coordinate the resources that are being utilized at the scene," says Socknat.

Socknat adds it can sometimes be difficult to know what's coming through and at what time.

But for large shipments, there is something called tier two reporting.

That requires all companies carrying hazardous materials over a certain weight to report that information to emergency management as well as all local fire departments.  

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