© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Legislature won't make PSC rail safety program permanent

When the Legislature passed the budget bill for the North Dakota Public Service Commission, it did not make the commission’s rail safety program permanent.

Instead, the program was given a new sunset clause.

"I'm upset about that," said PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak. "I think it's absolutely the wrong policy direction."

Fedorchak first suggested the program in 2014, and it was approved by the Legislature in 2015, as a pilot project. Since that time, the Commission has tried to make it permanent.

Fedorchak said the state Senate has been supportive, but the House has not. She said the Commission was given a choice – keep the program, but lose $200,000 in salary money. She said the Commission is facing a number of retirements of long-term employees, paying some of them for unused leave, and also hiring replacements – and the PSC felt it couldn’t short itself in that area.

"I felt like it was a false choice," Fedorchak said.

The rail safety program is funded through an existing diesel tax that railroads pay. A portion of the tax money is dedicated to make safety inspections. Two inspectors are employed by the PSC.

Commissioner Brian Kroshus said the rail safety program has proven to be effective.

"You look at the fact that thousands of defects have been found by Public Service Commission inspectors every year," Kroshus said. "Not hundreds, but thousands."

Kroshus said the program speaks for itself. He said the two state inspectors have found track problems even after federal inspectors finished their work. Kroshus said federal rail inspectors are stretched very thin.

"These trains pass through virtually all North Dakota communities," Kroshus said. "I don't know how you can put a price tag on public safety."

Related Content