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In Response: Railroads investing hundreds of millions to enhance safety in Minnesota

For Minnesota's railroads, working to keep our employees and the communities we serve safe is the most important thing we do. That's why railroads have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in capital and safety improvements in Minnesota. Just...

John Apitz

For Minnesota’s railroads, working to keep our employees and the communities we serve safe is the most important thing we do.
That’s why railroads have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in capital and safety improvements in Minnesota. Just in 2015 alone, the four Class I railroads will spend $500 million in our state.
These investments are paying dividends: 2014 and 2013 were the two safest years on record for freight railroads in the United States. A report on America’s infrastructure published every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers commended railroads for increasing investment during the recent economic recession, when materials prices were lower and trains ran less frequently. The society further said rail has made the biggest improvement since its last report.
Railroad companies own most of the United States’ nearly 140,000 miles of track, operating in every kind of location: cities, suburbs, open plains, mountains and everything in between. It’s in our interest to ensure tracks and trains are well-maintained so we can continuously serve our customers. There’s no gain in having tracks or trains break down, tying up the system and preventing us from doing our work.
To ensure we operate as safely as possible, railroads have been working voluntarily to further reduce risk and prevent accidents through increased track inspections, operating restrictions for crude oil trains and safer tank car standards.
A recent report by Minnesota Public Radio published in the Duluth News Tribune and elsewhere missed the mark (“Inspectors: Many Minn. rail bridges need repairs,” July 24). It implied that railroads are uninterested in maintaining bridges and other infrastructure. The facts show otherwise. Minnesota railroads spend a higher percentage of revenue maintaining, replacing, and expanding infrastructure than any other industry. Railroads are privately owned, so it’s their money, not your tax dollars, that keep up the private rail network that helps move goods around our state and the entire country.
The visual appearance of rail bridge structures is often not indicative of their structural integrity. Railroads document their bridge maintenance efforts through bridge inspection reports. The Federal Railroad Administration can inspect these reports, just as they also inspect rail bridges themselves. Railroads have zero incentive to fall out of Federal Railroad Administration inspection compliance - not to mention risking an accident by letting maintenance go undone.
Minnesota’s railroads are working to better educate officials and communities on the numerous safety efforts they long have been deploying. The railroad industry believes one of the best ways to prevent incidents and derailments is through strong, safe infrastructure. Yearly investments show the industry is putting its budgets behind those words. Those investments are improving the already strong safety record on the rails.
 
John Apitz of St. Paul serves as legislative counsel to the Minnesota Regional Railroads Association, or MRRA, which was formed in 1987 to help inform the public about Minnesota’s railroads. It represents the 17 freight railroads operating in the state.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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