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Franken adds to push for more rail inspectors

Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams and U.S. Sen. Al Franken take a look at a railroad crossing and traffic at the intersection of 21st St. S. and Main Avenue SE Monday, April 14, 2014, during a tour of local railroad crossings and to discuss efforts to increase rail safety in the region. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Dave Wallis

MOORHEAD, Minn. – U.S. Sen. Al Franken spent part of Monday afternoon driving down Main Avenue alongside the railroad tracks in Moorhead, where five-plus trains haul millions of gallons of Bakken crude east through the city every day.

That traffic – which Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams said she expects to increase – plus the fiery derailment in Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30 – make the trains that cross through town a major public safety issue.

“Imagine if that had happened in Moorhead,” the Minnesota Democrat said of the crash, in which a train carrying crude collided with a derailed grain train just a half-mile west of Casselton. “What happened in Casselton, we don’t want to happen again.”

Franken is one of more than a dozen senators who signed on to a letter urging a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to set up a fund to help train first responders, perform additional research and add railroad inspectors to understaffed federal agencies.

Even as crude-by-rail traffic has surged, the two agencies that inspect railroads and the facilities loading Bakken crude onto trains haven’t added inspectors in the region.

If the Safe Transportation and Energy Products fund were approved, Franken said regulators could determine where additional staff is needed most.

And Fargo-Moorhead is a big “bottleneck” for crude-by-rail traffic, Williams quickly chimed in.

Three major BNSF Railway freight lines in North Dakota funnel through the Fargo-Moorhead area before fanning out across Minnesota.

Franken floated the idea of assessing railroad companies with a “user fee” to help add inspectors and boost training.

Thirty states charge railroads to help fund their own state-run inspection programs, which supplement federal inspections. Minnesota has one inspector, and state lawmakers are trying to add at least two more this year.

North Dakota does not have its own program, though state officials say they are considering launching one.

Kyle Potter
Kyle Potter is an enterprise reporter at the Forum. He came to Fargo-Moorhead in May 2013 after stints at the Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minnesota Daily. 
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