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Continued: Minnesota's only railroad track inspector has 4,500 miles of worry

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 31, 2014 - 9:25 AM

But experience and visual inspection are still valuable, too. Brandt has come to learn the spots that can create problems.

Riding on the track outside Gaylord, he noted a project to drain water away from the rails. “Is he gonna do more drainage here?” he questioned Resick. Water on tracks erodes stability.

Down the line, the pair stopped periodically to walk bridges and places where rail lines intersect. In a couple of spots, they checked switches — giant eyelash-shaped pieces of steel that can be moved to send trains on alternate tracks.

“Clear! Switch!” Resick bellowed before cranking a giant handle. Brandt, gray hair peeking from under his orange hard hat, crouched down to see how snugly the switches fit against rails. It all looked OK.

“Throw it back!” Brandt yelled.

Brandt said he knows that if something were to go drastically wrong on a Minnesota rail line, someone might try to point the finger toward him. He also knows rails will never be accident-free.

“Realistically, things happen,” he said.

Inspecting rails used to make him anxious. As a young man, he retraced miles to make sure he left switches in the right positions. But after so many years he’s confident in his work. He has come to accept that he can’t be everywhere at once.

A citation

“I don’t worry about anything I can’t control,” he said. “You can’t be second-guessing yourself. It’ll drive you crazy.”

The hi-rail truck stopped at a creek bridge, and Brandt’s boots once again glided over wooden railroad ties, this time with gaps revealing streaming water some 20 feet below. It didn’t faze him.

He trudged across, noting a rotting tie, then huddled on the creek’s banks to see the underside of the bridge. A pile of branches had floated up to the small bridge’s pilings. Brandt told Resick he’d have to write them up for that.

If the creek were to rush during a flood, it could damage the bridge and lead to real trouble, he noted. The company would get 30 days to correct it.

Resick said his company goes beyond what’s required by government inspectors. His crews would get out there to remove it well before that.

 

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102



 

  • related content

  • Graphic: Minnesota railroads

    Friday March 28, 2014

    Map of the railroad lines in the state.

  • Jim Brandt, Minnesota’s state railroad-track inspector, checked a stretch of track last week near Arlington, Minn., for safety issues such as defective welds, heaves or dips, excessive rotting of ties or water buildup. “After 46 years, it jumps out at you,” Brandt said.

  • State rail inspector Jim Brandt, left, was joined by Terry Resick and Bob Wagner of Twin Cities & Western Railroad and MnDOT’s Dave Christianson as he checked TC&W tracks near Arlington.

  • Resick, left, and Brandt rode along about 15 miles per hour in a “hi-rail,” a truck equipped with small wheels that allow it to ride atop the tracks, for last week’s inspection.

  • By the numbers

    1 Minnesota rail inspector

    2 Federal rail inspectors in Minnesota

    4,500 miles of tracks in the state

    Minnesota’s Problem tracks

    1,138

    track-related safety defects

    cited by state and federal

    inspectors in 2013

    141

    more serious violation

    defects found

    10

    mainline train

    derailments in 2013

    2

    involved hazmat cars

    1

    resulted in the release of 15,000 gallons of crude oil

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