Heitkamp wants more ND freight rail inspections

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is pressing the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct more inspections of freight rail tracks in North Dakota after a high-profile train accident there last year.

Heitkamp said she was not satisfied with the agency response to her inquiries about its oversight of tracks near Casselton, N.D., after a train derailment there in December resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled.

“It is good to know there have been routine inspections in Cass County, but it is clear that the Casselton area is in need of increased attention considering the number of derailments around the same area,” Heitkamp said in a statement after receiving a letter from the FRA about its North Dakota efforts.

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“Folks who live near these tracks have been through a lot, and deserve to know that the rails are under close examination and that FRA is doing everything to make sure North Dakotans aren’t at risk,” Heitkamp continued. “At the upcoming Senate hearing on this topic – which I called for – I will press the FRA and other relevant agencies to make this area of track a priority.”

FRA officials defended their previous inspections of the North Dakota freight rail tracks in their response to Heitkamp’s initial inquiries.

“From 2006 to 2013, FRA track inspectors conducted an average of three switch observations and inspections per year on switch points and turnouts, and an average of 24 inspections per year directly to all aspects of track safety on BNSF in Cass County,” FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo wrote to Heitkamp.

“Overall, in North Dakota, since 2006, our regional inspectors have conducted 3,822 track inspections; cited 13,141 defects that were not in compliance with the Track Safety Standards; and written 721 violations against BNSF. FRA will continue to aggressively monitor the BNSF maintenance program,” Szabo continued. 

The Senate committee that oversees transportation issues was scheduled to hold a hearing on freight rail safety last week, but the meeting was postponed because of inclement weather.