Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Apr 24 2014

Heitkamp, Hoeven, Cramer Host Transportation Secretary Foxx in Casselton and West Fargo

Delegation Presses for Improved Rail Transportation Safety and Infrastructure Investments for Growing North Dakota Communities

CASSELTON, WEST FARGO, N.D. – Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven and Congressman Kevin Cramer today hosted U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx in Casselton at a community meeting with local, state and federal officials to review work on a comprehensive plan for improving rail safety. The leaders also convened a roundtable meeting in West Fargo to review North Dakota’s transportation infrastructure needs. Foxx is visiting North Dakota at the delegation’s request.

Rail Transportation Safety

Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil has increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 407,642 carloads in 2013, according to the Association of American Railroads. In light of the increased traffic and recent accidents, the delegation has been working to encourage collaboration among all of the stakeholders to arrive at an effective, comprehensive plan to improve the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. 

“Since the Casselton derailment, I have repeatedly stressed to Secretary Foxx the need for rail safety improvements, but there is no substitute for having him in North Dakota and speaking with folks on the ground,” said Heitkamp. “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. To truly improve safety, we need to work together. We will absolutely keep the pressure up so there is an effective and comprehensive response, which will require coordination and collaboration – from the industry, federal regulators, and local governments.”

“We have met with Secretary Foxx and the other stakeholders to make sure we put in place a comprehensive approach to transporting crude oil safely by rail,” Hoeven said. “That effort needs to include everyone – the railroads, regulators and shippers – working together to ensure that communities are safe. A comprehensive approach means working to reduce risk and prevent accidents in the first place, and if they do occur, mitigating the impacts of fire and explosion, as well as making sure we have appropriate emergency plans in place to respond.”

“Improved rail safety must come from a trusting partnership between government and industry. I stressed to Secretary Foxx the importance of sharing safety data gathered by government agencies with railroads and tank car manufacturers so everyone can benefit. Communities and industry have waited more than two years for new rules concerning the DOT-111 tanker, while rail demand continues to accelerate. The federal government must do better,” said Cramer.

Following the Casselton derailment in late December, Hoeven organized a series of meetings for the delegation with Secretary Foxx and Pipeline, Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) head Cynthia Quarterman and other stakeholders to discuss steps DOT is taking to improve railway transportation safety and to follow up on a letter Hoeven wrote a year earlier asking Quarterman to expedite rules governing construction of new, safer tanker cars. The delegation then met throughout the winter and spring with Foxx, Quarterman and Federal Railroad Administration head Joseph C. Szabo, as well as oil and rail industry leaders to develop strategies to improve rail transport safety.

In March, Heitkamp brought Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean to testify at a Senate hearing she chaired about how to better train our emergency responders for emerging threats and hazards. Heitkamp also has called for updated standards for tanker cars carrying crude oil, increased safety requirements for shipping routes, and enhanced track inspection standards for the rail lines carrying crude oil.

Earlier this year Cramer participated in a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing alongside Administrator Quarterman and FRA head Szabo, delivering testimony on passenger and freight rail safety.

Transportation Bill Reauthorization

Foxx and the delegation also traveled to West Fargo for a roundtable on the importance of passing a long-term reauthorization of the federal transportation bill, Moving Ahead in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which expires on September 31, 2014. 

“As we get ready to consider a long-term transportation bill, it was important for us to highlight to Secretary Foxx the immense infrastructure needs we have in our state,” said Heitkamp. “Funding for roads and highways is North Dakota’s most important transportation need. Because our state provides the country with many important agriculture and energy products, making sure our rural communities have high-quality roads is important to all Americans.” 

“North Dakota has seen tremendous economic growth over the past decade across the state, and an important part of sustaining that growth is making strategic investments in our transportation infrastructure,” Hoeven said. “This means we need a multi-year federal transportation bill that will provide the certainty our builders and state and local governments need to make long-term plans. We can accomplish this in a smart, fiscally responsible way that preserves the funding formula, emphasizes state and local control over projects and streamlines our federal processes, which saves both time and money.”

“There’s no better place than North Dakota for the Transportation Secretary to witness how a rapidly growing economy can fuel intense demand for additional roads and infrastructure. Our citizens know as well as anyone the importance of government keeping up with economic and population growth,” said Cramer.

Prior to MAP-21’s passage in 2012, Hoeven served as a member of the joint Senate-House conference committee responsible for reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill. The final bill was fully paid for, provided nearly $756 million in transportation infrastructure funds for North Dakota across three fiscal years, expedited the environmental review process for highway projects and gave states more flexibility in using funds as they most needed. The senator has also worked as a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee to provide funding through discretionary programs for North Dakota priorities, including rail and pipeline safety, airport improvement and transit research centers. Hoeven will continue to work in his role as an appropriator to secure adequate resources to meet the state’s growing transportation infrastructure needs.

Heitkamp will play a significant role in crafting the public transit title of the surface transportation bill reauthorization in the coming months as a member of the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the Federal Transit Administration. In considering reauthorization, Heitkamp will work to make sure the needs of rural communities are properly met through important programs such as the Rural Transit Assistance Program.

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