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Legislative Report: Train derailment focus of legislative team

By Senator Gary Lee, Representative Wes Belter and Representative Pete Silbernagel

The recent train derailment near Casselton has been the focus of the District 22 legislative team. With the event happening literally in our back yards, we recognized the need to provide our support to those impacted by this serious incident. From the outset we have been in communication with city, county, state and federal officials as they dealt with the accident itself and worked to protect the residents of Casselton. Our sincere thanks and appreciation go out to all of those who were involved in that effort. Their dedication and excellence in service should be lifted up by each of us. As a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board that was on the scene stated, “You had an unbelievable team on the ground and I have never seen such cooperation, they were great to work with”.

As a legislative team we recognize that first and foremost our efforts needed to be in support of those dealing with the derailment as it was happening. However, now that the risks of this one event have been brought under control there is much work to be done to reduce the risks related to rail transport throughout our state moving forward. As a team we are committed to pursuing the following strategies to help mitigate the risks in North Dakota:

The U. S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) needs to finalize the specifications and design requirements for future tank cars that safer cars can begin to be put into use. Without a clear specification, tank car owners remain uncertain as to what the future design will be and are less willing to put safer tanks into service.

State and local officials need to review the maintenance protocol of companies operating rail transport service within their jurisdiction. This review needs to include not only mainline and short-line operators, but also other industries utilizing private tracks.

We need build the fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline which would connect North Dakota’s oil production to refineries in the southern U.S. With North Dakota’s oil production nearing one million barrels each day, the Keystone pipeline could be an alternative to rail transport.

We need to build the Sandpiper Pipeline which would run from Tioga, N.D. to Superior, WI. This line would have the capacity to move another 225,000 barrels per day out of the Bakken to points east. Again, reducing rail transport would be the significant result of this line.

With the help of the Federal Railroad Administration, we should require that railroads provide to emergency responders accurate, real-time information regarding the identity and location of all hazardous materials on a train.

The above list of action items certainly is not all inclusive. As the root-cause of the Casselton derailment is determined other strategies may be required as well. However, it is imperative that as a state and as public officials we are pro-active in pursuing activities that will begin to mitigate the risks associated with transporting hazardous materials on the North Dakota rail system. The impact of the recent train derailment in Casselton is fresh in the minds of all North Dakota’s residents, as legislators, it has been and will continue to be our focus in the weeks and months ahead.