North Dakota lawmakers meet with top regulators on oil railcar safety

North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D) met with top regulators on Thursday to discuss improving railway transportation safety, following an oil train derailment last week in their home state.

The senators sat down with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Saftey Administration (PHMSA) chief Cynthia Quarterman.

On Dec. 31, a BNSF Co. crude oil train derailed in Casselton, N.D., setting 21 railcars ablaze. That was the fourth accident involving a train transporting crude oil in North America in six months.

And on Wednesday another train carrying crude derailed in Canada, forcing 100 residents to evacuate their homes.

"Today we put pressure on DOT and PHMSA to step up and move forward with safety provisions, which have not been handled with the necessary urgency, and just yesterday I reached out to the Federal Railroad Administration,” Heitkamp said in a statement.

PHMSA — a Transportation Department agency that regulates the transport of oil and gas by rail and pipeline — is gathering supplies of crude from the Bakken rock formation and sites in Texas, Quarterman told the senators during their Thursday meeting, according to a release put out by Hoeven's office.

Foxx promised that he plans to organize a meeting next week with all of the parties responsible for rail transportation safety.

"I believe Secretary Foxx recognizes the need for prompt action and personal engagement, so we’ve invited him to come to North Dakota to speak directly to the people of Casselton and the state,” Hoeven said in a statement Thursday.

The escalating number of rail accidents adds head to the spat over whether pipelines are safer for carrying the expanding crude oil produced in the U.S.