The train that derailed Nov. 8 in Wisconsin and spilled at least 20,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River didn’t have a sufficient number of cars carrying flammable liquids to meet lower federal speed requirements.

The government set the requirements this year in response to safety concerns about transporting crude oil by rail.

According to railroad shipping documents, the train had 15 tank cars loaded with ethanol, five fewer than would trigger speed restrictions set by federal regulators.

Some lawmakers, environmentalists and community groups have criticized the speed limits in U.S. Department of Transportation rules, announced in May, because they apply only to trains that meet the department’s definition of high-hazard flammable trains. The train that derailed on Nov. 7 near Alma, Wis., did not.

Under the new rules, trains with 20 or more tank cars carrying flammable liquids in a continuous block or 35 cars dispersed throughout the train are held to 50 mph. They’re restricted to 40 mph within a 10-mile radius of 46 high-threat urban areas designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Wisconsin train originated in Minneapolis and was bound for Kansas City, Kan., according to shipping documents. Both cities are high-threat urban areas, and BNSF voluntarily set a lower speed limit of 35 mph, compared with the federal government’s 40 mph, in those cities.

Amy McBeth, a BNSF spokeswoman, said the railroad was working with federal officials on the investigation.

Tribune News Service