By Betsy Morris
The Federal Railroad Administration has written 721 safety violations against BNSF Railway in the state of North Dakota since 2006, according to U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who asked the agency for the information last month.
In a letter dated last week, she said the agency said it has conducted 3,822 track inspections in the state during that period and has cited the railroad for 13,141 defects, where it wasn't in compliance with track-safety standards.
BNSF is based in Fort Worth, Texas and owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. It was a BNSF crude oil train that derailed in December, causing fire and explosions that resulted in the evacuation of the nearby town of Casselton, N.D.
In the letter, released by Sen. Heitkamp's office, the FRA said there had been four derailments just in Cass County, N.D.--before the latest one in December--on the BNSF rail line in the past nine years. Two of them had been caused by track problems--a misalignment and a broken rail, the letter said. The other two were equipment-related, the letter said. The letter was signed by FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo.
The letter said the agency had conducted an average of 24 inspections annually since 2006 on the BNSF rail lines in Cass County and would "continue to aggressively monitor the BNSF maintenance program."
"It is good to know there have been routine inspections in Cass County, N.D., but it is clear that the Casselton area is in need of the increased attention considering the number of derailments around the same area," Sen. Heitkamp said in a statement.
Senate hearings on rail safety were to be held last week but were postponed because of the snow storm.
Write to Betsy Morris at [email protected]