Heitkamp introduces bill to require two-person freight train crews to improve rail safety

FARGO - Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D, has introduced a bill aimed at improving rail safety by requiring two-person crews on freight trains.The oil train that derailed near Casselton, N.D., in 2013 had a two-person crew, Heitkamp said, allowing them...
A fire from a train derailment burns uncontrollably as seen in this aerial photograph Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, west of Casselton, N.D. Forum file photo

FARGO - Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D, has introduced a bill aimed at improving rail safety by requiring two-person crews on freight trains.

The oil train that derailed near Casselton, N.D., in 2013 had a two-person crew, Heitkamp said, allowing them to act quickly to prevent the fire from escalating further, but trains still can operate with one-person crews.

"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 in a statement. "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."

Heitkamp's bill is supported by first responders across the state, she said, as well as SMART Transportation and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Tim McLean, Casselton fire chief, supports Heitkamp's bill, which he said is the latest in a series of efforts the senator has made to "protect our communities and support first responders."

In 2016, Heitkamp introduced and helped pass into law her RESPONSE Act to give first responders training and resources to handle hazardous incidents, such as derailments of trains carrying hazardous materials. A report evaluating training and best practices is expected later this year.

Heitkamp also helped secure $5 million in federal funding to support a unique training facility in Pueblo, Colo., that prepares first responders to handle hazmat incidents on the rails.