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Other trains head south to the Gulf, east to New York and Pennsylvania, north into Canada.
One of the first places trains heading west pass through is Wolf Point, an agricultural town of about 2,600 people.
On a line historically dominated by grain and freight shipments, crude trains are now a daily sight. Horns announce their approach as locomotives pulling 3 million gallons of crude pass yards from the high school.
Emergency officials in Montana and beyond generally praised the railroad industry’s responsiveness to derailments.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the dominant railroad in the Bakken, maintains its own hazardous materials emergency crews, totaling more than 220 personnel at 66 sites. The other major railroads take similar precautions and offer specialized training to local firefighters.
Yet corporate responsibility can only do so much, said Sietsema, who noted that the last significant derailment in his county came when a freight train hit a truck at a road crossing.
Wolf Point has an all-volunteer fire department. The nearest hazardous materials teams are on the other side of the state. There’s no containment boom on hand if oil were to enter a Missouri River tributary.
As for controlling an oil-fueled fire, Wolf Point’s fire department would use up its supply of specialized foam in a matter of minutes, said Chris Dschaak, Wolf Point’s mayor-elect and secretary-treasurer of the local fire department.
Similar limitations exist for other departments, said Alan Finklestein, a fire marshal in Ohio who conducts hazardous materials training.
He said the problem has been compounded by cutbacks in emergency personnel and training in recent years due to the ailing economy.