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Mar 31

Battle Creek Fire trained, prepared to respond to emergencies including train derailment

Posted on March 31, 2023 at 11:36 AM by Eric McClure

It is safe to say that all of us wait at train crossings regularly as we travel around the city. Some of us find the train whistles a comforting part of our city’s character, and some of us probably find them an annoying reminder that the trains can delay our travels.

Battle Creek is a popular travel point for rail because of our location between Detroit and Chicago. 

However you feel about our train traffic day-to-day, you might also feel worried after hearing recent news of multiple train derailments, especially with one reported in Michigan and a hazardous derailment in Ohio. 

There is not a simple answer to explain how we would handle a train derailment in Battle Creek, but we want to share some information that we hope will give you peace of mind that we are ready to address any emergency. 

If a derailment happens, here is a series of events we expect would follow:

  1. The response likely will start with a 911 call (or more than one).
  2. The Battle Creek Fire Department will respond. Once they realize it is a rail/train incident, they will escalate the response as needed, with more fire crews, or other responders.
  3. The BCFD will assess if the train is carrying hazardous materials – we have a Hazardous Materials Team, and they have an emergency response plan for this type of situation. They would request the train’s Hazardous Goods Manifest to understand what the train was carrying.
  4. Depending on the level of need, we could call in resources from regional, state, or federal partners. We would activate an Emergency Operations Center – a more formalized way to involve city staff and community partners – for the best response.

Canadian National is the rail company responsible for most of the tracks in Battle Creek, other than Amtrak. Norfolk Southern also can run trains on those tracks. 

We work with rail providers like CN to plan and prepare for potential incidents. Our BCFD Haz-Mat Team trains regularly so we can handle rail emergencies, and we receive commodity flow studies to help make sure our plans specifically fit our community. Those studies provide information about the type and amount of hazardous materials moving through. 

All hazardous materials on a train would fall into U.S. Department of Transportation hazard categories. Our main concern would be materials that can catch fire, and we would need information about potential environmental impacts during a spill.

Our Haz-Mat Team has trained on emergency scenarios with TRANSCAER (outreach program Transportation Community Awareness Emergency Response), and at the Specialized Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colo. Our team also is part of a statewide mutual aid system. That means we have access to other communities’ fire department resources if we experience a large, major incident, and we could help others in a similar situation. Our Emergency Management team, via our Battle Creek Police Department, also would activate and help manage this type of situation.

Two people in blue hazardous suits training on top of a rail tanker car.

Firefighters training with TRANSCAER.

Firefighters sitting at tables looking at a presentation on screen in a training room.

Battle Creek firefighters participate in classroom training.

It is good to remember that not every derailment involves hazardous materials, and not every tanker train car carries hazardous materials. 

Whatever the situation, our emergency and hazardous materials teams are well-trained and ready to respond.

While it’s difficult to get local freight statistics, we do have some information about rail in Michigan. We compiled some of these into a graphic.