rail safety

PSC wants to extend state rail inspection program

Feb 5, 2018
Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The North Dakota Public Service Commission will ask the 2019 Legislature to continue the state’s rail inspection program.

The 2015 Legislature agreed to create it, with a sunset clause in 2019.

"Prior to my arrive here, when I would look at the rail inspection program, I would ask the question, 'Why do we have an inspection program when the feds already have inspectors out there?'" said Commissioner Brian Kroshus.

Kroshus said a year ago, his answer would have been 'no." But he said he now supports it.

PSC pushing to keep two rail inspectors

Mar 21, 2017
PSC

The Public Service Commission is asking the state Senate to restore one of the positions the House cut in the state rail inspection program.

The budget request calls for two full time employee. The House cut it to one.

"One of them is considered temporary, the other is full time," said Commissioner Julie Fedorchak. "The temporary employee is working full time. We invested in his training and his certification, and he's highly qualified to act independently as a rail inspector."

Fedorchak said he's doing some important things, including mechanical inspection.

PSC pushing to keep two rail inspectors

Mar 21, 2017
PSC

The Public Service Commission is asking the state Senate to restore one of the positions the House cut in the state rail inspection program.

The budget request calls for two full time employee. The House cut it to one.

"One of them is considered temporary, the other is full time," said Commissioner Julie Fedorchak. "The temporary employee is working full time. We invested in his training and his certification, and he's highly qualified to act independently as a rail inspector."

Fedorchak said he's doing some important things, including mechanical inspection.

State rail plan being updated

May 20, 2016

The North Dakota Department of Transportation has begun the process to update the state rail plan.

It’s done every 5 to 10 years.

Three public meetings were held this week – in Fargo, Minot and Bismarck. 

The DOT’s Ben Ehreth says one common theme from the meetings is communication – from the railroads to local officials.

PSC has its first certified rail inspector

Mar 11, 2016

The Public Service Commission has its first certified rail inspector.

Karl Carlson was hired as part of the PSC’s pilot program for rail inspection. Commission chairman Julie Fedorchak says Carlson completed six months of training, and can now go out on his own. Fedorchak says she’s been talking with Carlson and the federal inspectors – and they’re finding ways to improve rail safety.

"We are finding a lot of ways to improve on poor maintenance practices and shortcuts the industry is taking," said Fedorchak. "In some cases, there are unsafe conditions."

Some railroads have proposed cutting back to one person crews on trains.

BNSF had proposed it during contract negotiations with unions – but the unions rejected that. Now, a bill has been introduced in Congress to make the tw person crews mandatory.

The two person crews consist of an engineer and a conductor. The proposal was to have only an engineer on the train. But union officials say that could compromise safety.

PSC to begin the state rail inspection program

Jul 30, 2015

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has signed an agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration – to start the new state rail safety program.

The 2015 Legislature approved two positions – one permanent and one temporary – to start the state inspections. It’s a four year pilot program. The money will come from taxes the railroads already pay.

"More inspectors on the ground means we'll be finding more problems," said PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak. "Hopefully, you'll find the problems before they cause more accidents.'

Rail safety pilot project approved in PSC budget

Apr 28, 2015

The budget for the state Public Service Commission has passed both chambers with a new rail safety pilot project.

The PSC had proposed hiring three people as rail inspectors. Lawmakers allowed one full-time employee, plus a temporary worker.  And the issue will be taken up again in two years.

"The people of our state don't want derailments," said Rep. Kris Wallman (D-Fargo) during House debate. "They also don't want gigantic fireballs devastating their communities."

Wallman called it a small step in a positive direction.

Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission says she’s disappointed that legislators so far have cut the proposed rail safety program from the PSC budget request.

But Julie Fedorchak says she’s not giving up the fight.

"I think that the program, as we presented it, is a modest investment and a good place to start," said Fedorchak. "It has the potential to make a real difference in the safety and efficiency of the rail system."

2-person train crew bill defeated in the House

Feb 26, 2015

A bill to require trains to carry two person crews has narrowly failed in the North Dakota House.

It was introduced after some railroads proposed one person crews. And the sponsors were worried about safety – especially in light of some major train derailments that happened near Casselton and Larimore.

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