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U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) yesterday announced she received a letter from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in response to her recent request that the agency release information on its inspections of rail lines near Casselton, N.D., where a BNSF Railway Co. train derailed on Dec. 30.In its letter, the FRA highlighted the following record of its inspections, according to Heitkamp:• From 2006 to 2013, track inspectors conducted an average of three switch observations per year related to all aspects of track safety on BNSF lines in Cass County.• Overall in North Dakota, inspectors conducted 3,822 track inspections since 2006, and the FRA has cited 13,141 defects and written 721 violations against BNSF.“It is good to know there have been routine inspections in Cass County, but it is clear that the Casselton area is in need of increased attention considering the number of derailments around the same area,” said Heitkamp in a press release. “Folks who live near these tracks … deserve to know that the rails are under close examination and that FRA is doing everything to make sure North Dakotans aren’t at risk."Heitkamp said she will follow up with the FRA to again ask if the area near Casselton is receiving special track-inspection attention, since four derailments have occurred in the area in the past nine years.Shortly after the BNSF derailment, Heitkamp asked Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) — the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s surface transportation subcommittee — to hold a Senate hearing on improving rail safety. The hearing was scheduled to be held Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C., but was postponed due to inclement weather. It will be rescheduled in the near future, said Heitkamp.Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) sent a letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo urging the agency to inspect industrial tracks in Portsmouth and Newington, N.H. The inspections are necessary to address safety concerns raised by Seacoast-area residents, the politicians said in a joint press release.The FRA should quickly determine the condition and safety of the tracks, which are owned by Pan Am Railways and would be used to transport liquefied petroleum gas if a Sea-3 Inc. application is approved, they said in the letter. The town of Newington's planning board is reviewing Sea-3's application to expand its liquefied petroleum gas facility and increase its capacity for off-loading propane from tank cars. The proposal would involve raising the number of tank cars carrying liquefied propane to a Shattuck Way facility, increasing rail traffic through Newington, Stratham, Greenland and Portsmouth.In addition to conducting the track inspections, FRA officials should attend a local public forum on track safety to address residents' concerns about the Sea-3 proposal, the politicians wrote."These communities have raised concerns about the condition and safety of these tracks, and the dangers associated with using them to transport highly flammable material," the letter states. "The safety of these tracks is of paramount importance, especially in light of a recent study of freight train derailments that found that broken rails or track welds are the leading cause of derailments."
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