A train heads
south into downtown Waukesha. The tracks in Waukesha are an
of the line where trains collided in Slinger.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff
WAUKESHA - It happens every day in Waukesha: you’re
on track to make it to work right on time when you see those red
lights flashing and those barriers going down just half a block
But what’s on the
trains that pass through the city seemingly every hour?
Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale said it’s likely a load of coal on
its way to a plant in Oak Creek, Kenosha, Sheboygan or Wausau.
“We have quite a
mix, but the biggest commodity here in Southeastern Wisconsin is
coal,” Plale said.
It’s also likely
to be grain or crude oil. If a tank is carrying a hazardous
material, there’s an easy way to tell what’s inside, Plale said.
“Every tank or
car has a placard. It’s the diamond-shaped sign you see on a side of
a car so that law enforcement knows what it’s carrying, whether it’s
crude oil, diesel fuel, chlorine, that kind of stuff,” Plale said,
adding that crude oil is a relatively new addition to the rails.
Each placard has
a four-digit number that corresponds to a hazardous material. If you
see the number 1993 on a placard, it means that car is full of a
combustible liquid like fuel or weed killer. If you see 3082, it’s
carrying something environmentally hazardous.
Plale said the
numbers are important for law enforcement to assess the situation in
case of an accident like the one in Slinger recently.
Three engines and
10 rail cars derailed just south of Highway 144 after the southbound
Canadian National train heading from Fond du Lac to Champaign,
Illinois, struck a Wisconsin and Southern Railroad train on a side
rail. Three of the cars owned by Canadian National were carrying
fracking sand, while the seven other cars were carrying plastic,
lumber and steel.
Administrator Ed Henschel said Waukesha is prepared in the event of
a train derailment, even if hazardous materials are involved,
because our Fire Department has specialized haz mat response
Plale said it’s
important to remember that train accidents are “very, very, very
“According to the
Association of American Railroads, 99.997 percent of all railroad
cars make it from point A to point B without incident. It’s the
safest way to transport something,” Plale said. “There’s no need for
panic, but everyone should be concerned - knowing what’s on those
trains is a good thing. It’s still a very safe mode of
transportation. There are lots more truck accidents than train