Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp today announced they will be hosting, in partnership with GATX Corporation and BNSF, a railcar safety training event this October in Fargo, North Dakota. From October 6-8, GATX, the largest railcar leasing company in the world, will provide training to local rail workers and emergency responders using its TankTrainerTM and Classroom Car.
GATX's TankTrainer is a 33,500-gallon tank car outfitted with a variety of fittings, coatings and configurations that allows trainees to access both the interior and exterior of a tank car for a hands-on experience. The Classroom Car is a climate-controlled training facility for instruction provided by experienced GATX personnel. Using these mobile facilities, GATX provides education and outreach to its customers, railroads, emergency responders and the communities in which it operates.
"North Dakotans are rightly concerned about the safety of our communities, and we've been working hard to bring together key figures, including BNSF, federal and state officials, to ensure the safe operation of our railroads," Hoeven and Heitkamp said in a joint statement. "This upcoming training will be a valuable opportunity to provide first responders with information they can use to better protect our communities and themselves. We want to thank GATX and BNSF for partnering with us to make this training a possibility."
Following the Casselton derailment in late December, Hoeven organized a series of meetings for the delegation with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx and Pipeline, Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) head Cynthia Quarterman as well as other stakeholders to encourage collaboration towards an effective, comprehensive plan to improve the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. At the first of these meetings, Hoeven followed up with Quarterman on a letter he wrote a year earlier asking her to expedite rules governing construction of new, safer tanker cars. The delegation also hosted Secretary Foxx at a community meeting with local, state and federal officials in Casselton this past May to review work on the comprehensive plan.
In June, the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Senator Hoeven is a member, approved the Fiscal Year 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) funding bill. Hoeven worked with the THUD Subcommittee to include in the bill a number of measures to reduce the risk of accidents and to mitigate the impact of fire and explosion when they do occur. The bill also includes a provision requiring a date certain for new rules for tanker car construction to give industry the regulatory certainty they need to invest in safer, more modern rail tanker cars.
Since the train derailment in Casselton, Heitkamp has worked tirelessly on a wide variety of issues surrounding derailments and other potential incidents on the rails to make sure safety of North Dakotans and their communities is everyone's top priority. In March, Heitkamp brought Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean to testify at a Senate hearing she chaired about how to better train our emergency responders for emerging threats and hazards. After listening to McLean and first responders across the nation, Heitkamp introduced her RESPONSE Act in June to better prepare emergency personnel in North Dakota and across the country tasked with responding to potential hazmat incidents, such as derailments of trains carrying materials like crude oil. It would also make sure first responders in communities near railroad tracks get quality training and have access to the appropriate resources and effective communications.
Heitkamp has worked closely with DOT, including hosting Secretary Anthony Foxx in North Dakota, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as other federal, state, and local officials, and industry. She has called for and continues to press all sides on the need for many changes to improve rail safety, including updated standards for tanker cars carrying crude oil, increased safety requirements for shipping routes, and enhanced track inspection standards for the rail lines carrying crude oil.
GATX is committed to safety and training, and the TankTrainer program is part of its ongoing efforts to educate industry professionals on the important features of tank cars. The TankTrainer has been in operation for more than 20 years, and GATX has hosted hundreds of training events for thousands of employees at railroads and shippers, as well as local and regional first responders.
BNSF is co-hosting this training as part of its ongoing Hazmat training program for communities, which is designed to aid local emergency responders in how to prepare for and respond to possible hazardous materials transportation incidents through a combination of hands-on training and emergency planning. BNSF's Hazmat professionals have trained over 700 North Dakota emergency services personnel in the past few years and will hold nine additional trainings in North Dakota this year, including locations such as Dickinson, Mandan and Bismarck.