Hoeven Continues Work to Improve Rail Safety

Senator Contacts Top Federal Officials, State and Local Officials after Heimdal Derailment

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven Thursday contacted local, state and top federal officials following the derailment early Wednesday morning of a train carrying crude oil near Heimdal, N.D. The senator spoke with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Sarah Feinberg, National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) Vice Chairman Dr. Bella Dihn-Zarr, Wells County Commissioner Randy Suckut and the governor’s office, as well as officials of the BNSF Railway.

“We’re grateful first of all, that there were no injuries and want to thank the first responders for the outstanding work they did to keep people safe,” Hoeven said. “We need to do everything we can to move crude oil as safely as possible in North Dakota and across the country, which is why I’ve contacted the Administrator of the FRA and top officials at the NTSB. They now have their crews on the ground doing full investigations.”

FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told Hoeven they currently have a team of 11 inspectors in Heimdal. The FRA conducts its own parallel investigation and assists the NTSB with theirs. The team is expected to be working until Sunday or Monday to gather data from the scene. FRA inspectors specialize in a range of data, including mechanical and track inspections, drug testing and interviews with crew members to identify human factors, if any, that may have contributed to the cause of the accident. The FRA eventually produces a forensic recreation of the whole scene to put all the elements together. The FRA expects to complete its report within a few months, but will issue safety advisories sooner if they determine that steps could be taken immediately to improve rail safety.

The NTSB is now in control of the site. They have a crew of four who specialize in this kind of accident in Heimdal, and they’ll be there for about seven days gathering information, said Vice Chairman Dihn-Zarr. The NTSB can issue recommendations at any point in the course of their investigation, she said, but generally need a year to produce a detailed report on the accident. The focus of the investigation now is on fragments of wheel that were found near the tracks. The NTSB is working to determine if the wheel came from the derailed train or is from another train passing through.

Hoeven also spoke with Wells County Commissioner Suckut, who oversees emergency management for the county. The senator thanked him and all the first responders on the scene for their good work and asked if the county had the resources they needed to properly respond. The commissioner indicated they had done additional training and exercises and first responders were better prepared for such an accident now than in the past.

BNSF Railway said Thursday they were on the scene assisting first responders. The company deployed a boom, which helped to contain the oil and prevent it from entering the James River. They have removed a majority of the crude oil from the derailed tank cars and will move the derailed cars as the NTSB works to complete its investigation. They have begun the clean-up and repair of the tracks.  

Hoeven has been pushing for measures to make the transport of crude oil safer since 2012, when he asked the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue a new standard for safer tanker car construction. The new construction standard is vital, he said, because the industry needs regulatory certainty in order to make the substantial investment required to deploy a newer and safer fleet of tankers.