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Letter to the editor: Transporting oil by trains needs to be regulated better

The recent train derailment that caused the evacuation of my hometown of Casselton where many Sinners still live stirred my interest in the regulation of our rail industry. After research, I have discovered that the growth of transporting oil by rail has been largely unregulated. This most recent accident and others have proven that Bakken oil is highly explosive and must be subject to special handling.

Even though the shipping of oil by shuttle trains began more than five years ago, the regulations governing these shipments of volatile and explosive materials have remained substantially unchanged for decades. The current restrictions on these trains are: 1) one “buffer” car between the engine and any “flammable” material car, and 2) six “buffer” cars between the last “flammable” material car and the caboose. I believe that the railroads stopped using cabooses in the 1980s which tells us that our regulators have not at all kept up with the changes in this industry.

And after reading the suggestions by BNSF and the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration leaders, I concluded that a few other ideas to protect our citizens and communities should be advanced.

1. Promote the construction of underground pipelines that are much safer than “above” ground conduits for transporting “flammable” materials;

2. Require all train cars carrying “flammable” materials to be upgraded to 2011 standards or better. In 1991, the U.S. Transportation Safety Board cited the DOT-111 cars (those used in all these accidents) as “inadequate” to safely transport hazardous materials such as crude and ethanol;

3. Require “automatic” unhooking devices on all cars carrying “flammable” materials;

4. Require the inspection of all trains prior to the departure from their origination and at all crew changes;

5. Require alert notices to communities through which trains transporting “flammable” materials travel at least 12 hours in advance;

6. Require Emergency Response Assistance Plans for each county and city these materials pass through on the routes;

7. Require all trains carrying “flammable” materials to reduce their speeds to 25 mph through all communities;

8. Require all passing trains be required to reduce their speed to 25 mph during the time they are passing;

9. Hold hearings in affected communities asking for input from local citizens and officials;

10. Provide incentives for the construction of bypass rail routes around communities.

I believe we can safely and efficiently transport our crude oil to the point of processing. However, it must be done with great care and persistent monitoring.

We cannot minimize the dangers so we must deal with them immediately. Federal and state leaders now must act swiftly to protect our communities and residents from what has proven to be an impending disaster.

(Sinner, a Democrat, represents District 46 in the North Dakota Legislature)