DOT chief visits site of ND train crash to discuss rail safety

 

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx traveled Thursday to the site of an oil train crash last year in North Dakota that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled with lawmakers from the state. 

Foxx was accompanied on his visit to Casselton, N.D., by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Heidi Heitikamp (D-N.D.) and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). 

The lawmakers said they were eager to discuss the Obama administration’s efforts to increase the regulation of the freight rail industry’s handling of crude oil incidents. 

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“We have met with Secretary Foxx and the other stakeholders to make sure we put in place a comprehensive approach to transporting crude oil safely by rail,” Hoeven said in a statement. “That effort needs to include everyone — the railroads, regulators and shippers — working together to ensure that communities are safe. A comprehensive approach means working to reduce risk and prevent accidents in the first place, and if they do occur, mitigating the impacts of fire and explosion, as well as making sure we have appropriate emergency plans in place to respond.”

Heitikamp agreed that changes were needed after the Casselton accident, which involved an oil train that was being operated by BSNF Rail Company derailing and spilling its contents. 

“Since the Casselton derailment, I have repeatedly stressed to Secretary Foxx the need for rail safety improvements, but there is no substitute for having him in North Dakota and speaking with folks on the ground,” Heitkamp said. “Our families should never question whether they are safe in their homes and it’s up to us to do everything possible to make sure they are protected. To truly improve safety, we need to work together. We will absolutely keep the pressure up so there is an effective and comprehensive response, which will require coordination and collaboration — from the industry, federal regulators, and local governments.”

The Department of Transportation and Association of American Railroads announced an agreement in February to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil by this summer in the wake of the Casselton accident. They also agreed to inspect tracks more frequently as part of a new safety effort

Under the agreement, freight companies were scheduled to increase by at least one the number of track inspections they do by March 25.

In addition to the track inspections and lower speed limit, the agreement calls for the freight rail industry to install wheel alignment detectors along every 40 miles of tracks and contribute $5 million to the development of new training programs for transporting hazardous materials.

Cramer said more action would likely to be needed to prevent another accident like the one in Casselton from occurring again. 

“Improved rail safety must come from a trusting partnership between government and industry,” he said. “I stressed to Secretary Foxx the importance of sharing safety data gathered by government agencies with railroads and tank car manufacturers so everyone can benefit. Communities and industry have waited more than two years for new rules concerning the DOT-111 tanker, while rail demand continues to accelerate. The federal government must do better.”