PSC wants to extend state rail inspection program

Feb 5, 2018

Public Service Commissioners Brian Kroshus (l); chairman Randy Christmann; and Julie Fedorchak.
Credit 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.

"At the end of the day, it's about public safety," Kroshus said. "The inspectors continue to find defects."

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak holds the rail inspection portfolio. She said one need not look further than the report on the Heimdal accident, where a train carrying crude derailed. She said the National Transportation Safety Board’s report finds that a faulty wheel caused that accident. And Fedorchak said the report blames “shelling” on the wheel.

"It's where the steel flakes off, and over time, weakens the wheel," Fedorchak said. "And it cracks."

Fedorchak said the PSC’s rail mechanical inspector has issued three violations for that very same problem, and has issued a total of seven defect notifications for wheel problems.

"Can you say he's prevented an accident? No, you can't," Fedorchak said. "But he's out there finding things we know can contribute to accidents."

And Fedorchak said the track inspector has really stepped up the number of inspections compared with federal inspectors.

"The rail industry is vital," Fedorchak said. "Having safe railroads operating in our state is something everybody needs."

Fedochak also said railroads go through the heart of virtually every community in North Dakota.

"A safe system is important from a public safety standpoint," Fedorchak said. "Being invested in that makes a lot of sense."

Kroshus said if Governor Burgum’s hope is realized, and the state is able to produce two million barrels of oil a day, rail will again become an important tool to get crude to refineries throughout the country – at least until more pipelines are built.

The program is paid for through taxes on the railroads.