Guest opinion: BNSF works with local officials for public safety

2014-07-03T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: BNSF works with local officials for public safetyBy MATT JONES The Billings Gazette
July 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

At BNSF Railway, we take public safety seriously and understand that communities want to know what materials may be moving through their towns in order to ensure that adequate precautions can be taken. That’s why BNSF has long provided detailed information about all hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, to first responders and local emergency planners.

BNSF has always been willing to confirm publicly what commodities are moving through a community, and for many years we have conducted training exercises with local emergency responders to help them adequately prepare.

In the last five years, BNSF has provided training to 460 first responders in Montana. This year, we are sponsoring emergency professionals to attend intensive specialized training for crude-related incidents in Pueblo, Colo. Twenty Montana firefighters from across the state signed up to attend this free training.

Rail transportation is obviously not hidden from the public, but detailed information about specific shipments could be misused if it comes into the wrong hands. To minimize that possibility, federal regulations prevent railroads from publicizing information about certain hazardous materials shipments, and the specific details of hazardous materials shipments have traditionally remained confidential to first responders and government officials for security and emergency planning purposes.

The recent U.S. Department of Transportation order regarding crude transportation restated that information sent to the states on crude oil shipments has historically been kept confidential with first responders and local officials. Following that past practice, BNSF provided information about Bakken crude oil shipments to the state of Montana; and to all other states in which we operate and asked the states to treat the information confidentially for safety and planning purposes.

The determination about how information related to crude shipments is controlled or communicated is ultimately a decision for the federal government and subsequently the state emergency response commissions. In response to inquiries from several states including Montana, the U.S. Department of Transportation clarified that the agency did not deem the shipment information covered by the order security sensitive. Therefore, BNSF will continue to update the information about crude oil shipments, and the information is publicly available through the state of Montana’s website. We will, as we always have, share additional information for security and emergency planning to ensure public safety.

We are committed to working and sharing information with the communities where we operate. There are 2,300 BNSF employees that live and work in Billings and other towns across Montana. Nothing is more important to all of us than operating our railroad safely for our communities and families.

Matt Jones is BNSF Railway's public affairs director for the region including Montana.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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