On the third anniversary of a crude oil train explosion that killed 47 people in small-town Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a number of Milwaukee activists gathered Wednesday to draw attention to oil sitting in train cars on the city’s north side — and the risk it may pose.
Local representatives from the NAACP, 350.org and Citizens Acting for Rail Safety — along with residents and business owners in the one-mile evacuation area surrounding the train cars — held up fire-shaped signs and photographs of other North American explosions.
While standing underneath crude oil-carrying trains parked on tracks running above W. Capitol Drive near N. 34th St., they argued that up to 2,000 gallons of residual oil sits in each car and could become dangerous to residents.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation states that if there is a tragic explosion in an urban area, that’s going to be at least 500 people,” 350.org Milwaukee representative George Martin said. “Can you imagine our services, our fire department and police department, trying to evacuate and handle something like this?”
A Federal Railroad Administration and Wisconsin & Southern Railroad investigation in May showed the cars carry residual remnants of crude oil, Milwaukee NAACP President Fred Royal said.
The investigation found there’s no risk to the surrounding community, Wisconsin & Southern director of government relations Ken Lucht said.
Residual oil is defined by Wisconsin & Southern as “droplets that may stick to the sides of the car,” Lucht said. The company has confirmed some of the cars may have residual oil, but will be cleaned as market demand calls for their use.
Lucht said it’s highly unlikely there are 2,000 gallons of oil in any of the cars. Royal said he’s not convinced.
“We’ve got too much potential of life and loss of property to have these located in this neighborhood,” he said.
It’s an issue of “human rights,” Royal said. There are residential homes and a day care center around the parked train cars that warrant extra attention, he said.
Brian Chiu is a member on the Citizens Acting for Rail Safety steering committee. He also lives next to the train tracks on S. 1st and W. Oregon streets where, for the last year and a half, he has seen oil tanker trains pass by outside his window.
Though he said he doesn’t mind the sound of a freight train rolling by, he thinks it’s unfair for the high-risk crude oil trains to run through a heavily populated area, like Milwaukee.
“I feel like running, but why should I run?” Chiu said. “It gives me the impetus to fight.”
And if cars have to be parked along the train line, Royal wants them moved to less populated areas.