Carrying cardboard cutouts that read 'Kaboom' and handmade windsocks that looked like oil trains on fire, a group of area activists protested the number of oil trains traveling through Wauwatosa and demanded that more safety procedures be put in place.
The group — made up of members of Grassroots Tosa, Grassroots Milwaukee and Citizens Acting for Rail Safety — gathered on the afternoon of July 6 along the railroad tracks that belong to a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway near 68th and State streets in Wauwatosa.
Grassroots Tosa member Peter Abbott said oil tankers that pass through heavily-populated areas are 'particularly unnerving.'
'We think that not enough is being done about it,' he said of rail safety. 'There's not enough transparency, from either the railroad regulators or the railroad companies. We think more needs to be done to the point where it's loaded on, like degassifying Bakken and shale oil in North Dakota, and that also trains need to travel slower through populated areas, especially urban areas like Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.'
The protest was held on the third anniversary of the train derailment in July 2013 that killed 47 people and incinerated much of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The train carried Bakken Formation crude oil.
Bay View resident Susan Bietila of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety said her brother lives down the road from the protest site in an apartment complex for visually impaired people on Hawley Road, near railroad tracks. If an oil train were to derail near his building, it would be disastrous, Bietila said.
'We shouldn't be thinking about disasters, we should be thinking about prevention,' she said, adding she'd like to see stricter railroad safety enforcement.
In a statement, Salem Woodrow, a spokeswoman for Canadian Pacific Railway, said safety is a concern for the company and that rail is the safest way to move dangerous goods over land. The company believes it's essential that it's prepared to respond effectively to incidents involving dangerous goods.
'In the past five years, CP has trained over 20,000 emergency responders on hazmat response through its emergency training exercises,' the statement said.
Woodrow said CP has increased spending on infrastructure improvements by 32 percent from 2012 through 2015, installing new tracks, new ties, new ballast and has done other work to ensure a safer railroad. The railroad company will spend roughly $1.1 billion on infrastructure improvements this year, she said.
'Under the common carrier obligation, CP is required to move products considered hazardous materials, provided they meet federal standards,' the statement said. 'As the consumer and societal needs for these products carry on, we continually strive to make the transportation of dangerous goods as safe as possible.'
Train derailments have happened before in Wauwatosa. In April, a Union Pacific Railroad train derailed near Home Depot on 124th Street and Capitol Drive. Fire department members said there were no injuries and no hazardous materials were spilled during the incident. The four cars that derailed all remained upright and were believed to be empty.
Grassroots Tosa also spoke up following that incident, issuing a statement that expressed concerns about general train safety in Wauwatosa and urging citizens to contact their local alderman and ask what can be done to require railroad companies to make investigation reports public.