Home / Energy / Speed rules didn’t apply to train in ethanol spill
Workers inspect railroad tank cars damaged in a derailment near Alma, Wis., on Nov. 8, 2015. (Image courtesy of the U.S. EPA)

Speed rules didn’t apply to train in ethanol spill

WASHINGTON — The train that derailed earlier this month in Wisconsin and spilled 20,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River didn’t have a sufficient number of cars carrying flammable liquids to meet lower federal speed requirements

The government set the new requirements this year in response to safety concerns about transporting crude oil by rail.

According to railroad shipping documents, the train had 15 tank cars loaded with ethanol, five fewer than would trigger speed restrictions set by federal regulators. Because it didn’t meet that threshold, the train was permitted to operate at 55 mph.

Some lawmakers, environmentalists and community groups have criticized the speed limits in U.S. Department of Transportation’s rules, announced in May, because they only apply to trains that meet the department’s definition of high-hazard flammable trains. The train that derailed on Nov. 7 near Alma, Wis., did not.

Under the new rules, trains with 20 or more tank cars carrying flammable liquids in a continuous block or 35 cars dispersed throughout the train are held to 50 mph. They’re restricted to 40 mph within a 10-mile radius of 46 high-threat urban areas designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Wisconsin train originated in Minneapolis and was bound for Kansas City, Kan., according to shipping documents. Both cities are high-threat urban areas, and BNSF voluntarily set a lower speed limit of 35 mph, compared with the federal government’s 40 mph, in those cities.

Though the train was going 26 mph when it derailed, it met none of the criteria for those lower limits and could have traveled the same speed as a car on most state highways.

Amy McBeth, a BNSF spokeswoman, said the railroad was working with federal officials on the investigation.

There have been 10 notable derailments in North America this year with spills or fires, seven with crude oil and three with ethanol.

Related: Crews work to clear up after 2 Wisconsin train derailments


50 mph: Trains carrying 20 or more cars of flammable liquids in a continuous block or 35 dispersed throughout a train.

40 mph: Trains meeting above criteria in 46 high-threat urban areas designated by the Department of Homeland Security.

35 mph: Voluntary speed restriction imposed in those cities by BNSF Railway.

This article was written by By Curtis Tate from McClatchy and Tribune Newspapers and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


  1. wow a fuel spill that wont have lasting affects on the environment and requires little cleanup who woulda thought that would ever happen

  2. A very important fact that many are ignorant of–
    Cargo does not cause train wrecks

    • Wow Thad!! We agree on something! Now if we had a pipeline to transport that……..

    • No pipelines for ethanol– for Bakken the Dakota Express is in process.. Very little Canada tar crude moves by rail

    • There is more crude travelling by rail than should be. The KXL would have had a side effect of moving 100,000 bbls per day. It’s only 10% of Bakken output but it takes it off the rail system nontheless.

    • Steve Gunderson —one more time the ‘Dakota Express” pipeline is being built to carry Bakken light east to the pipeline hub in Illinois– once into that system can go any where even south to Tx
      It will be finihed long before the K-XL AND it requires no presidental approval

    • Steve Gunderson one more time- the ‘Dakota Express’ pipeline is being built to carry Bakken east to the pipeline hub in Illinois it does not require presidental approval and will be finished long belore the K-XL is even approved,
      If TC had really been serious about shipping Bakken light they could have built the K-XL that far– again no presidental approval

    • Thats great news! The US can supply itself with oil just as Canada can. So the question is why do we both buy oil from Saudi..

    • Canada has almost no light crude so has to import from the US…in eastern Canada Saudi light is imported because of slight cost advantage over rail shipped Bakken light.
      Canada would have no oil industry without exporting to US

  3. Ethanol has a strong lobby and without that it would not even exist.

  4. James Qualls what do you think?

  5. The relaxed speed limits were also not a factor in the incident. The article states that the train was traveling at 26 mph when it derailed. Just another click bait headline.

    Still, it is fortunate that the only ecological impact was a lot of really happy fish.

  6. Spilling oil in a river creates an ecological disaster that would be seen for years. Spilling ethanol into a river makes fish and turtles drunk.

  7. Yet another click bait headline…. This story is irrelevant to the bakken any how

  8. There going to be alot more train wrecks in the years to come

  9. Just like most mixed freight trains. Crazy!

  10. Ok so the speed limit is 55 and it was going 26 when it derailed so why the fack does the headline say it was permitted to go 55 cause it didn’t have enough cars? Talk about irrelevant info. Fackin moroons!

  11. Doesn’t matter what is in the rail cars..The fact is it did derail..pipelines are safer than rail transport.