FARGO, N.D. – The furious pace of energy exploration in North Dakota is creating a crisis for farmers whose grain shipments have been held up by a vast new movement of oil by rail, leading to millions of dollars in agricultural losses and slower production for breakfast cereal giants like General Mills.
The backlog is only going to get worse, farmers said, as they prepared this week for what is expected to be a record crop of wheat and soybeans.
The railroad industry is warning the White House against some potential safety rules for trains carrying explosive crude oil, saying freight and passenger rail traffic could be disrupted for years if companies must obey 30 mph speed limits, install more sophisticated brakes and keep the trains manned at all times.
The arguments, contained in documents posted after a meeting this week between railroad officials and the Office of Management and Budget, also offer a preview of what steps the Obama administration may be considering in response to oil train crashes that have struck the U.S. and Canada in the past year. Those include a disastrous July 6 explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, after an engineer left a train packed with North Dakota crude oil parked on a steep incline with brakes that may not have been properly set.
The Department of Transportation declined to comment on the documents. DOT submitted a draft rule proposal to OMB in April but has offered no details about what’s in it.
BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. railroads forced to turn over details of their volatile crude oil shipments are asking states to sign agreements not to disclose the information. But some states are refusing, saying Thursday that the information shouldn’t be kept from the public.
Federal officials last month ordered railroads to make the disclosures after a string of fiery tank-car accidents in North Dakota, Alabama, Virginia and Quebec, where 47 people died when a runaway oil train exploded in the town of Lac-Megantic.
The disclosures due midnight Saturday include route details, volumes of oil carried and emergency-response information for trains hauling 1 million gallons or more of crude. That’s the equivalent of 35 tank cars.
A combination of bad weather and a large number of oil shipments has been severely delaying Amtrak riders in northern Plains states – and a rail passenger advocacy group is trying to do something about it.
It hasn’t been easy to be a rail passenger lately – especially if you’re traveling on Amtrak’s Empire Builder.
That’s according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which says the delays on the route – which runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Oregon – have become unbearable for passengers.
The cause? Heavy freight volumes from the northern Plains states, largely oil shipments.