Other Views: Derailed rail study had merit
The North Dakota Legislature, specifically the House, did a clumsy quickstep this week when it killed sensible legislation that would have focused on railroad safety. The bill's sponsor, Sen. George B. Sinner, D-Fargo, had agreed to amend the bil...
The North Dakota Legislature, specifically the House, did a clumsy quickstep this week when it killed sensible legislation that would have focused on railroad safety. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. George B. Sinner, D-Fargo, had agreed to amend the bill from calling for a funded rail safety committee to requiring the state Department of Transportation and Public Service Commission to report regularly on a rail safety plan. The amended bill passed the Senate unanimously, and with further amending received a 10-2 do-pass in a House committee.
So far so good. Sinner reluctantly agreed to the changes, but given the political climate in the Capitol, the proposed study and reporting requirements were steps in the right direction.
The House did not see it that way. In what seemed like a script written by the railroads and the DOT, the bill was killed. A request for reconsideration also was killed. Curiously, opposition to the bill hardened when the DOT miraculously announced that it has a rail safety study in mind. That revelation came after Sinner proposed his bill. It might be a coincidence, but DOT’s plan seems to include items in Sinner’s plan. Hmmm.
Moreover, money had been set aside years ago for DOT study of railroads and rail safety. The funds were never used for the intended purpose; instead the money was redirected to other priorities.
But for nutty theater of the absurd, the comments of Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, win the Oscar. In opposing the bill Ruby said, “Yeah, we’ve heard some instances where there’s been some disasters dealing with railroads. But there’s been disasters dealing with semis and with motorcycles and with vehicles all over this state. Why are we putting the spotlight on railroads and making them to be like they’re some major issue?”
Then he answered his question by suggesting a study of rail safety was “feel-good legislation.”
If Ruby’s nonsensical rhetoric reflects the sentiments of the House majority, North Dakotans should be worried and angry: Worried because some members of the Legislature seem to be mouthpieces for the railroad; angry because of the reckless stupidity of minimizing the unique dangers of oil train derailments by comparing rail disasters to semi and motorcycle accidents.
The House would rather leave rail safety study to DOT, which has been AWOL on the issue for years. One member of the House committee that gave Sinner’s bill a do-pass, Rep. Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston, got it right regarding DOT. The agency will be “very busy” he said, adding, “and when push comes to shove, things get lost in the shuffle.” He said the Sinner bill was “a nudge to make sure this critical issue is studied and report(ed) to the Legislature.”
Hatlestad’s common sense and Sinner’s good bill got derailed.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead Editorial Board formed this opinion.