At BNSF Railway, our goal is to move all commodities as safely as possible, including crude oil. We understand that the communities we operate in expect this. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time and resources making it safer.
Some leaders in Minnesota — and the Star Tribune’s editorial page — insist railroads are doing only “the minimum” (“New push needed for oil-train safety,” Oct 31). I urge a review of the facts that show BNSF does much more:
Safety is paramount at BNSF; our record reflects it. Since 2000, derailments are down more than 40 percent, and we’ve reduced employee injuries significantly. Last year was our best year on record for safety, and 2015 continues that trend. Our goal is to move every carload safely, no matter the commodity or the route traveled.
On hazardous commodities, the rail industry approach can be summarized as preventing an accident in the first place, mitigating risk and mobilizing an effective response should an incident occur. The industry has long had additional practices in place to reduce the risk of moving hazardous commodities, including a number of voluntary steps, often surpassing federal regulations. At BNSF, we’ve reduced the speed of crude-oil trains to 35 miles per hour in major population centers, added more trackside equipment-defect detectors and rail inspections, and are working with customers to get the safest tank cars on our system sooner.
Some in Minnesota claim that taxing railroads another $100 million a year, with some of the funding going toward grade-crossing improvements, is the only way to improve oil train safety. That approach ignores federal data showing that fewer than 1 percent of grade-crossing accidents result in a derailment. It discourages private investment and diverts funds from railroads’ critical efforts in the state.
Railroads have 150 years of experience; we know what works when it comes to preventing derailments: training, technology and investments in our infrastructure. Those investments include routine seasonal maintenance and expansion projects. Through BNSF’s private, ongoing investment — $326 million in Minnesota this year — we work to move safely and accommodate the growth of Minnesota’s agricultural commodities, consumer products and more.
For the past year, we have reported to the state that Bakken crude oil moves on our route from the west into the Twin Cities. Starting in July, we informed the state of the uptick in crude oil on that route while construction occurs on our route to the Pacific Northwest. Over the past year, we’ve sent 10 reports to the state; then the state makes them public. These reports are straightforward. We list a range of Bakken crude-oil trains by county and routes, along with a map of the routes. We’ll continue giving notice on changes of significance.
Whether crude oil comes into the Twin Cities from the north or the west, we take the same precautions. We put this commodity on the safest, most secure routes, which includes our route by Target Field — a project possible only because BNSF worked with the state on its decision to build the Twins stadium over our tracks. We worked to get it done through land sales, easements and even relocating our freight tracks. Then and now, we ship hazardous materials on that route. It’s worth noting that many of the same people who believe it’s too dangerous to continue using the route for oil shipments support two new passenger-rail projects in our right of way. This contradiction should give us all pause to question the real motivation behind their concerns.
Finally, we continue training with first responders as we have for decades. Over the past two years, we have trained more than 2,200 Minnesota first responders, including 640 along the route in question. We have a new program for states with near-real-time geographic information on hazardous materials shipments, and a new app for responders that details specific railcar contents and contact information.
BNSF Railway has a strong record of safety, and we will continue going above and beyond to improve it further.
Amy McBeth is director of public affairs for BNSF Railway.