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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Canadian Pacific Weighs In On Safety of Milwaukee’s Rail Lines

Susan Bence

Are Milwaukee area rail lines becoming safer? One of the potentially hazardous loads some people worry about is crude oil. Trains carry up to 14 loads a week through the heart of the city.

Although Milwaukee has been accident-free, other U.S. and Canadian cities have not. Some citizens fear it’s just a matter of time because Milwaukee’s rail lines and bridges are old.

Andy Cummings of Canadian Pacific says his rail company stands ready to assist communities. CP’s “dangerous goods” officers train local first responders.

Credit Susan Bence
The Chlorine Institute's recent training at the Canadian Pacific rail yard in Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley.

“They’ll conduct trainings and they vary from the very specific training you say, that looks at one particular product, that being chlorine to more general trainings where we’ll talk about what would happen in the case of an incident, who do you call, how do you get a hold of the railroad, how do you get an accurate list of what’s in that train, what do you look for, what information do you want to convey to the railroad,” Cummings says.

Cummings is quick to add, Milwaukee area rail lines are becoming safer.

“At this point we are the safest say to move goods over land and of the Class 1 railroads in North America, CP has been the safest railroad based on incident per miles operated of trains among the Class 1s for ten consecutive years,” he says.

Cummings says Canadian Pacific inspects its 3200 bridges once a year, and the lines connecting them more frequently.

“Generally multiple times per week….And then periodically we’ll do more detailed inspections that would include ultrasonic testing looking INSIDE for defects that might be developing and REPAIR before an incident can occur,” Cummings says.

Ground zero in Milwaukee for citizens worried about the aging grid is what they call Old Rusty - a bridge more than a century old that passes along downtown.

“In 2015 the Federal Railroad Administration which is our regulator dispatched an inspector to look at that bridge. And that inspector concurred with our inspector, that that bridge is safe for rail operations that use it daily,” Cummings says.

Cummings says rail companies are legally bound to open their records only to federal auditors, however “based on the City’s request to see this information we were willing to share that with the city engineering staff in a closed-door meeting in an effort to assuage their concerns about the safety of the bridge,” Cummings says.

As with many stories, there are multiple layers.

For example, Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin flexed her congressional muscle at that time, in 2015, urging the Federal Railroad Administration and Canadian Pacific to respond to Milwaukee residents’ unease.

Within weeks, Canadian Pacific sent a crew to work below the bridge at the street level. Cummings says the project had been on the company’s schedule.

“In 2013 we did our annual inspection of the bridge and we noted corrosion at the base of those columns," Cummings continues, "We budgeted for that contract bridge study, which was a follow-up at that time to do that thorough evaluation.  And the determination of that was that if we did not encase those columns, that eventually the corrosion of those column bases would lead us to need to replace or substantially upgrade that bridge," Cummings says.

He says Canadian Pacific opted to extend the bridge's life.

"To build those encasement walls. And you saw those installed on First Street last year," Cummings adds, "And on Oregon Street.....with the work that’s commencing this week."

Many local concerns remain undiminished – WUWM will continue to follow the issue.

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