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A train carrying ethanol and corn syrup derailed in Minnesota

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

There has been another fiery train derailment, this time in the tiny town of Raymond, Minn. Nearly two dozen train cars left the tracks early this morning about 100 miles west of Minneapolis. The train was operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, and some of those cars were carrying ethanol, which caught fire. Mark Zdechlik of Minnesota Public Radio News joins us now from Raymond. Hi there.

MARK ZDECHLIK, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

SUMMERS: And, Mark, there has been a lot of talk and concern about train derailments lately, especially after last month's explosive derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. If you could, tell us what happened in this case and what you are hearing from folks there in Minnesota.

ZDECHLIK: Yeah. Well, early today a mixed load freight train was traveling through this rural town in Minnesota. At about 1:02 in the morning, 22 cars left the tracks. The railroad says the only hazardous cargo was ethanol. Some of the derailed cars containing ethanol caught fire. That prompted the evacuation of, really, the whole town just about 2 o'clock this morning or so. Thus far, there have been no reports of any injuries. Seventy-two-year-old Rose Day was among the people that had to get up and go. The Raymond resident said she recently returned home from the hospital after surgery. Firefighters started knocking on her door in the middle of the night.

ROSE DAY: I got the phone call, and then I started looking out. And then I saw flashing lights and stuff, and then they started coming through the mobile home park, which is behind me, and knocking on doors. I hadn't unpacked from getting home from having my knee replaced, so I threw the rest of the stuff together and had it ready. And then the fire department came and knocked on my door.

ZDECHLIK: Gale Rosen was also evacuated. He awoke to someone knocking on his door.

GALE ROSEN: Then I saw the fire, the flames. This is about 2 o'clock in the morning. The flames were just skyrocketing. And so it was very dangerous. And it was probably less than a quarter of a mile, even, out of Raymond. So it's really close.

SUMMERS: And what, so far, has the response been like from state and federal officials?

ZDECHLIK: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz was at the derailment site today. He said he was briefed earlier by U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg. Walz brought several high-level members of his administration to south central Minnesota. The governor thanked the evacuated residents who were sheltering in a nearby town for their cooperation and patience. He also thanked all the first responders who rushed to the scene, including many from neighboring communities.

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TIM WALZ: I think the biggest thing that probably everyone who pulled up on that saw was the number of first responders that were there and the number of different community names that were on those trucks. And so the first thing is, is that I think it's very reassuring. I think Minnesotans feel this way. I certainly do - is when something happens, your neighbors are there.

SUMMERS: And what else did we hear from Minnesota Governor Walz today?

ZDECHLIK: Well, interestingly, he said that the cars that derailed that contained ethanol were state-of-the-art, what are called 117Js. They're designed just for this kind of situation. They're much less likely to explode than conventional tanker cars if they leave the tracks because they have reinforced steel walls. So although ethanol is leaking and burning, public safety officials are not as concerned about the possibility of explosions as they otherwise would be right now.

SUMMERS: And do we know anything at this time about what caused this derailment?

ZDECHLIK: Burlington Northern Santa Fe President and CEO Katie Farmer, who was on the scene here too, said it's too early to say what happened. First and foremost, they're dealing with the fire and the cleanup. Farmer did, though, address the issue of rail safety in light of recent high-profile derailments, including the one in Ohio last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE FARMER: Certainly, I think we're hearing more about derailments in the wake of East Palestine. I can tell you what the statistics are, and that is 99.99% of all hazardous commodities get to destination without incident.

SUMMERS: So take us back to the city of Raymond. What about them? What's next for people there?

ZDECHLIK: Well, a team from the National Transportation Safety Board is on the way to begin their investigation. The railroad has to wait for the NTSB to give it the all-clear to begin putting out what's left of the fire. They say they're going to use a foam product to do that. They say the foam will not pose any environmental threats such as polluting the groundwater here. After they put the fires out, they'll begin the cleanup. And it's unclear how long that'd take or when we'll know exactly what happened.

SUMMERS: Reporter Mark Zdechlik from Minnesota Public Radio News. Mark, thank you.

ZDECHLIK: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Zdechlik
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