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North Dakota rail inspection extended, may be permanent

By JAMES MacPHERSONMay 29, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A state-run rail safety pilot program that supplements federal oversight of oil train traffic will continue for at least two more years and probably will be made permanent, North Dakota’s Republican Senate majority leader said Wednesday.

The program that began four years ago was set to expire in July. Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill this month that extends the program through 2021.

“I believe it will stay permanent as long as we are producing oil,” said Rich Wardner, the Senate majority leader.

The program includes two rail safety inspectors to supplement inspections by the Federal Railroad Administration. The idea had been a campaign platform for Republican Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak but was criticized by several lawmakers as an overreaction to a spate of fiery oil train derailments, and a duplication of federal and industry inspection programs.

Since its inception, state inspectors have found about 6,000 “defects” on tracks and railroad rolling stock, resulting in more than 90 violations, Fedorchak said.

There are more than 3,000 miles of railroad tracks in the state.

The program’s annual budget of about $300,000 is funded by a tax that railroads pay on diesel. Fedorchak said since the program began in 2005, a rail accidents have decreased.

“The rail industry is vital to agriculture and energy and the rail system travels through just about every North Dakota community,” she said. “We are investing in the safety of our state and it’s an important message for North Dakota and nationally.”

The FRA said about 30 other states provide supplemental safety inspections. The agency has said it does not reduce its efforts in states that have state rail safety inspectors.

Trains, each pulling more than 100 cars laden with about 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude, began running in 2008 when the state first reached its shipping capacity with existing pipelines and infrastructure.

Oil trains carrying North Dakota crude through the U.S. and Canada have been involved in several major accidents since then, including an explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people, and a fiery derailment in former North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s hometown of Casselton that left an ominous cloud over the city and led some residents to evacuate.

State data show trains hauled as much as 800,000 barrels a day from western North Dakota’s oil patch in 2014.

About 260,000 barrels a day was being shipped in March, the latest figures available. About 1 million barrels a day is being moved by pipelines at present from North Dakota, the nation’s No.2 oil producer behind Texas, state data show.

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