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Railroad executives talk rail safety with F-M leaders

In this file photo, a BNSF train waits at the Farmers Elevator terminal north of Glendive, Mont. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service

MOORHEAD—First responders, business leaders and city officials gathered Tuesday morning, Nov. 29, in the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce headquarters to learn about rail safety and legislation affecting railroads from representatives of BNSF Railway and the Minnesota Regional Railroad Association.

The event is one of several the two organizations have participated in over the last year in an effort to build relationships with community members and officials, said Amy McBeth, BNSF's regional director of public affairs.

McBeth and Paul Hester, manager of hazardous materials, field operations and emergency response, shared recent rail safety statistics and talked about investments BNSF has made in North Dakota and Minnesota in recent years.

"As an industry, we've had an 80 percent reduction in employee injuries, train crossing collisions and train accidents," McBeth said. "At BNSF, over the last 10 years alone, we've reduced the rate of derailments on our railroad by 50 percent."

BNSF has been able to do so by making substantial investments in infrastructure, training, increased inspections and maintenance. McBeth said nearly 18 percent of BNSF's revenue goes to capital expenditures.

For North Dakota, that's meant an investment of over $1 billion over the last three years and an additional $100 million this year. About $550 million has been invested in Minnesota, with an additional $130 million planned this year.

Hester talked about hazardous materials and how BNSF routes key trains: those hauling either a toxic inhalation hazard, a poison inhalation hazard like anhydrous ammonia or 20 carloads of any other kind of hazmat materials. He said key trains stay on key routes, which are considered the best tracks that go the shortest distance.

Any community concerned about what materials are being hauled through city limits can get what's known as a commodity flow study, he said.

Hester also discussed how new BNSF technology such as the AskRail app has improved rail safety. The app allows first responders to punch in the rail car number to find out what's being hauled and the shipper's contact information.

Dennis Egan, owner of Egan Public Affairs and a representative of the Minnesota Regional Railroad Association, wrapped things up by speaking about issues facing the railroad industry in the Minnesota Legislature such as the proposed underpass at Moorhead's 20th/21st Street.

Last spring's session ended without approval of the necessary bonding measure. Egan said if there is a special session, his organization will do what it can to secure the funding. If not, it will continue to work with legislators during the next session.

McBeth repeated BNSF's commitment to the underpass, including an investment of more than the required contribution of 5 percent for the span of the bridge.

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