Rail workers learning to prevent hazardous spills before they happen

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Flooding may have played a role in a train derailment in northwest Iowa last week that spilled more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil into a river. But railroad safety instructors say the easiest hazardous material spill to clean up is the one that doesn’t happen in the first place.

Workers from small and regional railroads around Iowa gather to learn more about rules and regulations regarding hazardous materials on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The Short Line Safety Institute brought a new "Safety Train" to Waterloo for the program. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)

And that’s where paying attention to safety rules and regulations about carrying hazardous cargoes comes in.

The Short Line Safety Institute works with nearly 600 small or regional railroads around the country on safety issues.

And workers from five short line or regional railroads came to Waterloo on Tuesday to learn more about the rules for transporting hazardous material like crude oil, ethanol and chemicals.

Those trained at the event at the Northern Iowa rail yard in Waterloo will then go back and train others at their own railroads.

Michael Bethge, an instructor with the Short Line Safety Institute, says a $500,000 grant new this year is providing free instruction to smaller rail line workers. The visit to Waterloo was the first stop.

And the program uses a special “Safety Train” to make the instruction more convenient.

“It affords us the opportunity of having a classroom right on board and workers can come out, climb, put (safety) placards on and we don’t have to move customer cars out of switching,” he said.

Instructors say the train-the-trainer format they use is intended to add more depth to the hazardous material safety programs each railroad already uses.

Although the training in Waterloo was intended for smaller railroads, all rail lines handle hazardous materials on a regular basis.