BISMARCK, N.D. _ Support is strong for a proposal to take on some oversight of rail safety in the state, a state regulator says.
Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak outlined a proposed state-run rail safety program included in the PSC’s 2015-17 budget request.
The program, with a price tag of $1 million per biennium, would consist of two inspectors and a rail safety manager. They would supplement the Federal Rail Administration, which oversees rail safety in North Dakota.
Fedorchak said the need for a supplemental program, already in 30 other states, isn’t a knock on the federal effort but a need to address new realities on the ground.
In 2000, approximately 4.7 million tons of materials was shipped via rail in North Dakota. By 2007, the amount had grown to 29.5 million tons and in 2012, it spiked to 49.8 million tons — an increase of more than 230 percent, she said.
“The FRA is a big federal bureaucracy that has taken a long time to adjust … to challenges,” Fedorchak said. “We can be more nimble and we can be more responsive.”
Fedorchak said Gov. Jack Dalrymple and several legislators have signaled support of the proposal. She said she’s confident the program will be approved in some form during next year’s session and would be up and running by late 2015 or early 2016.
Fedorchak disagreed with the idea that the state may have been slow in considering such a program. She said the increase in rail shipments between 2000 and 2007 was almost entirely from agricultural shipments and was manageable.
With increased shipping of oil by rail, however, Fedorchak said the tightening rail capacity is “making the margin of error much tighter.”
“I think the time is right (for new inspectors),” Fedorchak said.
The new inspectors would be trained by the FRA but would fall under state jurisdiction.
Fedorchak said in time more pipelines will be built, taking pressure off of rail for transporting crude oil. That also will ease backups in agricultural shipments, an issue for several months.
“The rail system is a huge driver in our economy,” Fedorchak said.
Even with more oil moving by pipeline as infrastructure is built, she said, she expects increases in farm products to keep overall tons of products being shipped annually to stay where they are.