- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

CASSELTON, N.D. (AP) - The head of the U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday during his visit to the site of a fiery oil train derailment in North Dakota that his office plans next week to outline options for enhancing tank car standards.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the proposal is the first step toward establishing new rules for rail safety to prevent accidents like the Dec. 30 crash outside Casselton that left an ominous cloud over the town and led some residents to evacuate.

“The reality is, is that we’re moving as fast as we possibly can to an answer here, but we want to make sure that we’re attacking this issue with the right solution,” Foxx said after a roundtable discussion at the Casselton fire department in front of first responders and other citizens. “And the worst thing we can possibly do is propose a tank car standard that is inadequate to the material that is being transported.”

BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose, who spoke at the meeting, said afterward that the company is currently working on the design of a new tank car, but has to wait until federal rules are in place before starting production.

“We’re not wasting time,” Rose said. “We will be done with that process in probably three to four months where we will have actually have a car that’s designed and then can go out to the marketplace. Then we will wait until the federal rule gets approved and then we will make the order.”

The December accident happened near Casselton when a train carrying soybeans derailed in front of a BNSF oil train, causing that train to also derail and set off a fire. The crash spilled about 400,000 gallons of crude oil, which took nearly three months to clean up.

Foxx said North Dakota is at the “tip of the spear” on the issue of safely transporting crude.

He was invited to Casselton by the North Dakota congressional delegation, which is pushing for the railroads, regulators and shippers to work together on improving safety. U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said Thursday it’s one issue that has put all public servants on the same side.

“We’re all feeling the same pressure,” Cramer said. “It might feel like we’re going at different speeds once in a while, but we’re all going the same direction.”

North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp said they have met with Foxx on numerous occasions to discuss rail safety, but that might not be as productive as him speaking with people who live with the problem.

“Our families should never question whether they are safe in their homes and it’s up to us to do everything possible to make sure they are protected,” Heitkamp said.

Hoeven said the focus is finding a “comprehensive solution.”

“It’s about moving on this issue and having everybody do their part,” he said.

Casselton fire chief Tim McLean, whose department led the response to ensure that nobody was injured, said after the meeting that since the accident, the trains are moving more slowly through town. He also has seen more updated rail cars.

“We know they’re working hard to fix the problem and come up with a solution so it doesn’t happen again,” McLean said. “I think the secretary is pretty down to earth. I think he knows what needs to be done.”

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