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Oil train regs front and center

As reflected in Sen. Al Franken’s, D-Minn., visit to Moorhead this week, senators from Minnesota and North Dakota are on the same page regarding railroad safety. The senators and other policymakers at every level of government had their attention focused in the past year by oil train derailments, explosions and, in Canada, horrific loss of life in an oil train accident. The derailment, fire and explosions near Casselton, N.D., in December raised awareness about the potential for disasters all along the railroad tracks that carry Bakken crude oil from western North Dakota to points east.

Franken is among more than a dozen senators who signed a letter urging a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to establish a fund to finance training of first responders, do more research and add railroad inspectors. The last factor is crucial because the agencies responsible for safety inspections have not added personnel as crude-by-rail traffic has surged.

In other words, the regulation shortfall is a factor in the rail safety picture that, if further neglected, could lead to more disasters. The change in sentiment regarding more intensive regulation crosses political party lines. Even lawmakers who instinctively resist government intrusion into the private sector have had an epiphany.

It is not, however, an either-or situation, whereby the oil and rail industries are actively resisting more regulation. What seems to be emerging from pragmatic concerns about the new oil transportation paradigm is a working partnership among all the players. That includes railroads, oil companies, local first responders, state regulators and the federal government.

The people who live along the oil train rails can only hope it does not take another derailment disaster to keep the process moving.