Harrisburg councilman pushes for protection against ‘bomb trains’

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski plans to make a local push to keep residents safe from “bomb trains.”

Images of massive fireballs hurled into the Illinois sky were seen across the nation late last week. The explosion stemmed from a train derailment hauling Bakken crude oil, the third such tragedy in three weeks.

On Monday, Koplinski said the recent examples of disasters should be viewed as a warning to Harrisburg residents. He plans to introduce legislation that would push for stricter federal regulations involving the hauling of Bakkan crude oil and implementing emergency preparedness training for state, county and local emergency responders to handle potentially hazardous situations.

“Imagine in Shipoke or other neighborhoods that these go through,” he said. “That could be a big, big concern.”

Bakkan crude oil and its highly flammable nature have been on many minds as of late following several disasters. Koplinski said oil trains pass through Harrisburg 25 times a week. He pointed to a map that shows 20,000 people live near railroad tracks and are potentially in harm’s way.

Koplinski said a derailment could be catastrophic.

“Doesn’t matter where, it can happen anytime, as we’ve seen,” he said.

A similar explosion killed 47 in Quebec, Canada in July, 2013. West Virginia declared a state of emergency last month when 14 tankers went up in flames for several days. That situation prompted Governor Tom Wolf to write a letter to President Obama, requesting proper action and oversight to protect Pennsylvania.

Koplinski’s proposed city legislation would hold safety agencies such as the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Dauphin County EMA accountable when it comes to proper training. He also expressed concerns that such agencies are ill prepared to handle a disastrous derailment.

“I doubt that these procedures would be sufficient right now,” he said.

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told abc27 that the company routinely trains for such disasters and does indeed work with PEMA.

A PEMA spokesperson said that is the case and added that they also work with CSX and have “real-time information” of what is being hauled and when. PEMA has also received federal grants for personnel to train on hazardous material spills, including Bakkan crude oil.

Koplinski said his proposal would be in conjunction with Wolf’s push to improve safety regulations and training funding. He added he felt the need to have a formal bill in place to protect the residents near tracks in the 17104 area code.

The councilman said he would like to see the state reroute trains to less populated areas or rural areas to avoid mass casualties in the event of a disaster. Koplinski said he would introduce his legislation to City Council Tuesday evening.

Above all, he felt there needs to be a cooperative effort on all levels of government to tackle the volatile nature of crude oil.

“I’ve got cufflinks of The Flash today,” Koplinski said. “He and Superman and lots of other superheroes [are needed] to save the people from this type of explosion.”

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