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ND’s first rail inspector now certified; more than 400 violations found since August

BISMARCK - The first track inspector hired by North Dakota regulators for a new rail safety program created in the wake of two fiery oil train derailments has earned his federal certification while finding more than 400 defective conditions and o...

BISMARCK – The first track inspector hired by North Dakota regulators for a new rail safety program created in the wake of two fiery oil train derailments has earned his federal certification while finding more than 400 defective conditions and over a dozen violations, PSC officials said Wednesday.

The three-member Public Service Commission received notice Monday that inspector Karl Carson is now certified by the Federal Railroad Administration, PSC chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said.

Carson had worked for BNSF Railway since 1992, most recently as a division engineer, before the PSC hired him in August.

He worked alongside FRA inspectors while earning his certification. During that time, they identified 411 defective conditions and 13 violations and also walked the tracks in Beulah, Max, Steele and Underwood, Fedorchak said.

“We’re finding many ways to improve the safety of the rail system in North Dakota,” she said, citing some poor maintenance practices and “shortcuts” the industry is taking.

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The certification allows Carson to conduct inspections independently to supplement the FRA, which has three track inspectors based in the state.

His position is one of two approved by state lawmakers in April when they voted to spend $523,345 on the state rail safety program in 2015-17, with the intent of continuing the pilot program in 2017-19. The funding is coming from an excise tax railroads pay on diesel fuel.

Fedorchak said it’s unclear when the second inspector will be certified.

North Dakota was the 31st state to partner with FRA on a state rail safety program. The FRA has primary responsibility for rail safety in every state.

The PSC began looking seriously at the need for a program after the December 2013 derailment of a BNSF oil tanker train near Casselton, which caused a massive fireball and voluntary evacuation of the city. Six cars from a BNSF oil train derailed May 6 near Heimdal in east-central North Dakota. No one was hurt in either incident.

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