Trains vs. pipelines: safely transporting materials in North Dakota

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 8:00 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Train derailments capture the public’s attention and North Dakota has seen its fair share of accidents, even as recently as four days ago in Burlington. But in February alone, four derailments made headlines, including the disastrous release of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.

Your News Leader drills into the question of the safety of railroads versus pipelines.

290 communities in North Dakota intersect with a rail line or have train tracks located near town. As the nation became aware of the derailment and cleanup in East Palestine, Ohio, some North Dakotans might wonder how close we are to a similar disaster.

There are three ways to ship goods through North Dakota: by rail, road, and pipeline. One public service commissioner says all three have pros and cons, but one is undoubtedly safer than the others.

“As it relates to transporting crude oil, pipelines are by far the safest, most environmentally sound way, so having less crude by rail is a positive thing,” said Julie Fedorchak, who serves on the Public Service Commission.

Rail accidents also grab headlines and Scott Skokos of the Dakota Resource Council points to deregulation in the rail industry as the reason he thinks trains aren’t as safe as they used to be.

“I don’t think trains are as safe as they were at one point, just overall. Obviously, pipelines aren’t 100% safe either, so it’s kind of like a Catch-22,” said Scott Skokos, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council.

Beyond the issues of less oversight and fewer workers on trains, Skokos says train derailments are easily detected but pipeline spills can leak potentially for days until they are caught and fixed.

Finding new ways to mitigate risk in moving materials, no matter if it’s by truck, train, or pipeline, will create safer transportation methods and reduce accidents.

Julie Fedorchak says pipelines and rail systems are both finding ways to use artificial intelligence to more quickly detect leaks in pipelines and defects in rail tracks and cars.