Sen. Heitkamp Introduces Railroad Safety Bill

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) proposed a bill that would require two-person crews on freight trains in hopes of improving railroad safety. 

Heitkamp said her proposed bill is supported by SMART Transportation and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, as well as first responders around the state of North Dakota. 

There was a train that derailed in 2013 near Casselton, North Dakota that had a two-person crew. Although trains can operate with one-person crews, Heitkamp stated that having two people allowed them to act quickly and stop the fire from spreading any further. 

In Casselton, there was a miscommunication because two trains were not on the same radio frequency. One train was carrying grain and the other train was carrying oil. The grain train declared an emergency, but the staff on the oil train had no way of hearing it. The oil cars ended up colliding with the overturned grain cars at 42 mph. 

The Casselton train incident caused the evacuation of more than 1,400 people. It was believed to be caused by an axle.                  

“When a disaster like the Casselton derailment sends shockwaves through our communities, we must do everything we can to prevent accidents and improve our ability to respond in the future,” Heitkamp said. “After the Casselton derailment, it was clear that having two crew members on board the train made all the difference to prevent the fire from escalating and threatening those living nearby.” 

Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean supports the proposed bill and said it is the latest in a series of efforts that Heitkamp has made to “protect our communities and support first responders.” 

One previous effort of Heitkamp’s was when she helped get $5 million in federal funding to a training facility in Pueblo, Colorado so first responders know how to handle hazmat incidents on the railroad. 

Also, in 2016, Heitkamp proposed and helped pass her RESPONSE Act. This act gives responders the training and resources to handle incidents with hazardous materials, including materials spilled or leaking from derailed trains. There will be a report evaluating the effectiveness of the training later this year. 

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