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North Dakota Eyeing New Rail Transportation Policy; Energy Shipments Part of Assessment

With more pipeline capacity coming online and the economics working against rail shipments of Bakken crude oil, North Dakota state officials nevertheless are continuing efforts to revise the state's plan for railroads, including crude-by-rail (CBR) transportation.

North Dakota’s Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is leading a collaborative with five other state organizations on a rail plan with a commitment to obtain stakeholder input early this year. NDDOT has begun the process with a survey "to gather opinions and gauge the direction of rail systems and services" for both freight and passengers.

Transportation officials said they will hold a series of public and private meetings that will include the collaborative group: NDDOT, Pipeline Authority, Public Service Commission (PSC), Departments of Commerce and Emergency Services, along with representatives from the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.

The state is seeking to create a "shared vision" on rail, which historically has been a key part of the agricultural and energy industries. PSC's Julie Fedorchak said an "efficient, accessible rail system" is essential for the state.

The engineering/planning firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., an experienced consulting firm in developing rail plans, has been retained by the state to lead the plan development after a competitive bidding process. It has a team assembled, including both state and national rail expertise.

A first step will be gathering input from stakeholder and public meetings, individual interviews, and conducting an Internet-based survey.

Among the areas that the state agencies have identified as needing to be covered in the plan are rail conditions, train speeds, tank car specifications and emergency response procedures.

Prompted several years ago by a rash of CBR accidents in the United States and Canada, federal authorities on both sides of the border and state officials in North Dakota began taking a hard look at what was needed to beef up safety regulations and equipment standards, such as new tank car designs (see Shale Daily, April 30, 2015; Nov. 14, 2014; Aug. 25, 2014).

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