Andy Peterson, Published February 28 2014
Letter: Railroad legacy is strongMy grandfather’s values included family, North Dakota and “railroading,” as he liked to call it. He worked on the Great Northern Railway for 57 years, and he never let anyone forget it. He died just a few weeks shy of his 97th birthday and talked endlessly about railroading until a few days before he passed away.
Considering the recent news of the train derailment near Casselton, N.D., and our congressional delegation’s call for straightforward regulation to increase railroad safety, I’ve thought a lot about the legacy of railroads in North Dakota. It is, after all, North Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood this year, and so much of our recent history is tied to the railroads. In North Dakota, railroads carry the things we need, and support the industrial, wholesale, retail and resource-based sectors of the state’s economy. North Dakota’s railroad exports are impressive, too. In 2011, the state exported $3.39 billion worth of goods. In 2012, export totals increased to $4.20 billion, a 26 percent increase in just two years.
Railroad transportation infrastructure is vital to a thriving economy. Because of the railroad network, North Dakota’s agricultural commodities, crude oil, and coal products are connected to national and international markets. The state’s railroad links Fargo, Minot, Grand Forks, Bismarck and many other communities to Chicago, Minneapolis, the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The railroad is essential transportation infrastructure that keeps our state and national economy running.
Moving large amounts of goods by rail also means fewer trucks on the highways. Trucks are still essential to moving goods because railroads cannot possibly provide service to every place transportation is needed. However, when investing in safety improvements or additional infrastructure, railroads invest their own profits rather than tax dollars. This makes railroads an even more attractive means of moving large quantities of goods.
Railroads also provide good-paying jobs. According to the Association of Railroads, the average U.S. railroad employee makes $108,900 in wages and benefits. In North Dakota, railroad employees earn an average wage and benefits package of $117,420 per year. Like my grandfather experienced during his career, the railroad industry remains a place where men and women can make an excellent living.
A railroad accident reminds us that improvements are continually needed to make things safer and more efficient. However, I am also reminded that freight of all kinds is continually delivered across the country without accident or incident. This includes the ever increasing commodity of oil from the Bakken in western North Dakota that is transported to market via the BNSF Railway.
North Dakota’s congressional delegation recently called for common-sense regulation to strengthen the railroad’s oil cars. It is important we all support the efforts of our delegation to improve railroad safety and, it’s worth noting, BNSF is on board as well.
Like my grandfather, I, too, believe railroads like the Great Northern and the BNSF are integral to a great quality of life in our state. Railroads helped make North Dakota the great state it is today by providing high-paying and long-term jobs and moving our state’s products to markets across the nation. It will be no surprise if railroads become an even bigger part of North Dakota’s future as state and business leaders continue working to expand the state’s economy.
Peterson is president/CEO, Greater North Dakota Chamber.