Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp Thursday, met with Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) head Cynthia Quarterman to discuss steps the DOT is taking to improve railway transportation safety and to follow up on a letter Hoeven wrote a year ago asking Quarterman to expedite rules governing construction of new, safer tanker cars.
Congressman Kevin Cramer was represented at the meeting by a staff member.
PHMSA is one of the federal DOT agencies that regulate the transport of oil and gas by rail and pipeline. Quarterman told Hoeven and Heitkamp that PHMSA has gathered samples of crude from the Bakken as well as from sites in Texas to help them determine a standard for rail car construction. The results of that test are expected within a couple of weeks, she said.
In addition, Secretary Foxx told the senators that he is working to organize a meeting next week with all of the interests responsible for rail transportation safety in order to gather additional information.
Combined with the testing results, he said the agency might be able to provide some guidance regarding the standard for new railcars. Hoeven and Heitkamp also invited Foxx to North Dakota following next week’s meeting. They stressed the need for openness and transparency in addressing the issue of rail safety.
“Everyone has an interest in railway safety – federal regulators, railroads, shippers and certainly communities along the tracks,” Hoeven said. “Consequently, we need everyone to be involved to address it. 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.”
“We are continuing to reach out to all entities that play a role in rail safety to get to the bottom of what happened in Casselton, and what we can do to make improvements. 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,” said Heitkamp. “It is incredibly important for North Dakota that we have smart rail regulations in place. They will give certainty to our shippers, and, most importantly, respond to the very legitimate safety concerns of North Dakotans.”
Among the chief concerns the senators expressed were:
· How soon new regulations regarding the construction of more modern railcars will be finalized
· What the agency is doing to determine appropriate speed limits
· What the agency has done to evaluate the condition of the ground and tracks in the region, which has seen four recent accident derailments
· What they are doing to make sure the right product is shipped in the right car
· What steps are they taking to get to the next generation of communications, such as Positive Train Control, which automatically slows down a train when it identifies a hazard in its path.
Hoeven and Heitkamp are working with industry and federal officials at all levels to address the issue of railway safety.
Last week, the senators spoke with Matt Rose, head of BNSF Railway, as well as with the NTSB to express concern about the derailment near Casselton and to expedite ways that rail transportation safety can be improved.