ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

OUR OPINION: Secure rural train crossings, and soon

That noise we hear out on the North Dakota prairie might be an oncoming freight train. The noise we may soon be hearing is the people of North Dakota clamoring for safer, more secure railroad crossings as the industry continues to expand, speed u...

Korrie Wenzel
Korrie Wenzel

That noise we hear out on the North Dakota prairie might be an oncoming freight train. The noise we may soon be hearing is the people of North Dakota clamoring for safer, more secure railroad crossings as the industry continues to expand, speed up and ship more dangerous products down the shiny iron rails that crisscross the state. At least that’s what we hope, in the aftermath of yet another tragic mishap involving a motor vehicle and a train.

No doubt, we want better service from the railroads, and rail companies have been scrutinized in the past year as oil trains derail and as aggies seemingly wait in the back of the line while oil boom interests clog the rails.

Historic growth in the Bakken and the state’s wild economic evolution are the two proud parents of North Dakota’s revitalized rail service. The oil boom is a great benefit to North Dakota and its economy, and that oil obviously needs to be shipped. Trains are a reliable and economically feasible method – or a necessary evil, depending upon the point of view.

The great quantities of oil create clogged lines, which in turn push rail companies to seek higher speeds to cruise on the rails. There’s money to be made, of course, and that plays a part. So does complaining about service, which the Herald’s editorial board has done in recent months in defense of agriculture interests in eastern North Dakota.

The dangerous side effect is a rural infrastructure that hasn’t yet caught up to modern realities about trains, which are faster and likely running more frequently than ever in the state’s history.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s why North Dakota and western Minnesota will continue to see sad and tragic accidents along highways until great effort – and expense – is undertaken to improve security and safety where quiet rural roads cross these new superhighways of transportation.

Earlier this week, two people died when a school bus collided with a train on the outskirts of Larimore, N.D. Five years ago, a man died at the same intersection where the Larimore bus crash occurred Monday. Last week, two people died when a train hit a car along Highway 11 south of Warroad, Minn.

At both places, it appears there was only a stop sign at the crossing. Anecdotally, we know of similar intersections, and we suppose a thorough investigation would turn up dozens if not hundreds of unsecured train crossings throughout North Dakota and northern Minnesota.

In Minnesota, it’s an issue that’s getting attention. Last year, the Legislature appropriated $2 million to improve crossings in the state, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation last week reported that it needs upwards of $244 million for more thorough safety improvements. The money that has been appropriated is generally being used to upgrade crossings to include flashing lights and crossing guards.

North Dakota needs to the same, and soon. Simply adding stop signs at locations isn’t enough, as shown twice now at the deadly crossing in Larimore and again near Warroad. Any intersection with any kind of traffic flow whatsoever needs flashing lights, at the very least.

Stop signs aren’t enough. This new era of railroads has developed faster than the people’s ability to adapt. We just haven’t yet evolved, and because of that, the state needs to do a better job of securing dangerous intersections.

North Dakota can afford a statewide upgrade of railroad crossings.

The state can’t sit back and witness this kind of growth without providing a basic amount of safety for the people who must cross the very tracks that are helping bring such great prosperity to the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

 

Related Topics: CRASHES
Opinion by Korrie Wenzel
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
What To Read Next