Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


North Dakota crash highlights lack of progress on oil train safety in Minnesota

Plus: motorcyclists dying at a higher rate this year; (some) chambers of commerce back raising revenue for transportation; Erhardt wrong about avian flu; and more. 

Smoke from the wreckage of several oil tanker cars that derailed in a field near the town of Heimdal, North Dakota, on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

Repercussions from yesterday’s oil train derailment in North Dakota. Don Davis of the Forum News Service reports, “A North Dakota oil train derailment reinforces the fact that Minnesota legislators have a week and a half left in their 2015 session but have not settled on what they would do to improve rail safety. … ‘I still believe the railroads are the best source to determine,’ what needs to happen, [House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing] said, and legislators ‘do not have that expertise. We will end up with something this year,’ to improve rail safety, Kelly promised, with railroad cooperation.” In other words, let’s let the market decide.

WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler says, “Republicans are resisting the governor’s call for a major new tax on railroads to improve rail crossing safety. They say it’s not related to derailments. ‘The problem is [derailments are] not happening at rail grade crossings,’ Kelly said. ‘They’re happening in North Dakota, outside the towns and rail grade crossings.’”

For MPR, Tom Scheck and Dan Gunderson say, “Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a new standard for oil tank cars that includes a thicker metal housing, improved braking and better pressure relief valves. Cars hauling Bakken Crude from western North Dakota will need to meet the new standard in five years. But new tank cars won’t solve the problem, said Brigham McCown, a former federal pipeline safety administrator who runs a Washington, D.C., nonprofit studying infrastructure policy. McCown says railroads are spending record amounts on capital improvements, but much more could be done with sensor technology to prevent rail accidents. He also called for more inspectors and greater oversight of railroads.”

Mike Durkin, for KMSP-TV says, “A new MnDOT analysis released in March shows 326,170 Minnesotans live within the half-mile evacuation zones along state oil train routes.”

Article continues after advertisement

Bikers are having a rough time of it this spring. Stribber Paul Walsh writes, “Motorcycle riders in Minnesota — where an early blooming of spring made riding more enticing — are dying at a higher rate so far this riding season, according to the latest data from the state. Since motorcyclists got back on the roads in earnest this spring, there have been 11 rider deaths, with four of those occurring since Saturday. That tally equals the number of motorcycle deaths at this time in 2014 (1), 2013 (3) and 2012 (7) combined, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). … Of the 11 riders who have died this season, seven were not wearing helmets.”

Stop the presses! A collection of Chambers of Commerce are not saying they’re against a tax! At MPR, Catharine Richert writes, “As legislators hash out the final details of a transportation funding plan, some regional chambers of commerce are asking legislative leaders to approve a revenue increase to fund road and bridge construction. … the views expressed in the letter are a nuanced departure from a view held for months by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which has lobbied against a new gas tax.”

Also from Richert, a “false” rating for my local Representative. “One DFL legislator took to the House floor to give a bizarre speech about why he’s worried about the risk of humans getting avian flu. Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, said that after eating turkey over the weekend ‘he was all flu-ed out’ and referred to eating turkeys as ‘possible poison,’ saying that there has been transference of avian flu to humans in the past. Erhardt’s statements imply people can get avian flu from eating poultry, and that’s not true.”

Giving up Eden Prairie. MPR’s Curtis Gilbert reports, “The troubled Southwest Corridor light rail project won a crucial show of support from elected officials in the Twin cities metro area on Wednesday. City and county leaders overseeing the project say they want to find a way to drive down its rising cost instead of scrapping the project altogether. … Several local elected leaders say they’d be willing to shorten the proposed rail line to control its skyrocketing budget. Removing the final Mitchell Street station in Eden Prairie could save more than $100 million. Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said she would consider giving up the station if it would save the project.”

They didn’t mean to burn it. Zack Kayser of the Forum News Service says, “Authorities have identified three juvenile suspects they say are responsible for burning a large portion of a historic, 113-year-old trestle bridge in Blackduck. About 200 feet of the 701-footlong railroad trestle bridge in Blackduck burned April 13 in a fire that investigators found had been set intentionally. … Blackduck Police Chief John Wilkinson said Wednesday that authorities had identified three juvenile suspects from Blackduck in the case, who told them they didn’t mean to burn the bridge itself.”

Well … . Liz Sawyer at the Strib says, “Campus police are no longer investigating the rape of a University of Minnesota freshman in her dorm as a stranger sexual assault, authorities said Wednesday evening. The investigation will continue into the report that two men armed with a knife accosted the young woman late at night over the weekend. The victim reported the assault to U police Sunday, and said she did not know her attackers. ‘After further investigation, the University of Minnesota Police Department is no longer investigating the report of a sexual assault in Sanford Hall as a stranger sexual assault,’ U spokesman Steve Henneberry wrote in a statement.”

In the Washington Post, Eugene Volokh wades into the U of M’s Charlie Hebdo poster/protected speech/harassment controversy. He writes, “Whatever limits on ‘harassment of an individual based on their identity’ might be (a complicated question, partly because ‘harassment’ is so ill-defined), here there was no harassment of an individual. The flyer didn’t call people’s homes to leave offensive messages. The flyer didn’t follow anyone, calling them names. The flyer didn’t even mention any faculty, staff member or student whom it was criticizing by name (though most such criticism would indeed be protected free speech). Rather, the flyer contained an image that some individuals find offensive because of their religion. If that is enough to trigger an investigation — on the theory that any speech offensive to individuals of certain religious groups may be ‘harassment of an individual based on their identity’ — then something is very badly wrong in the EOAA. Indeed, even speech that intentionally ‘disparag[es]’ ‘faith[s]’ is exactly the sort of thing that universities should host, alongside speech that defends people’s faiths, or that disparages or defends political, moral or scientific beliefs.”