We need rail guards

Trains are hustling by our building at speeds of — sheer guess — 40 mph. The press rattles on its special concrete pad, the rolling thunder is so great. We were not oblivious to the presence of freight trains when we built our newspaper palace, but we were more serene when they coasted by at 25 mph or so. Recently the Illinois Central, subsidiary of the Canadian National, upgraded tracks to town so it could pick up a few seconds through The City Beautiful.

It is their right under a 1947 federal law that sets speeds.

The city can do nothing about it. Neither can anyone else.

We can only wish it were not so.

Yet we have ideas. We agree wholeheartedly with Mayor Jon Kruse, who says he wants automated guards at every street-rail crossing. Stop signs are not enough to protect drivers from themselves or trains barreling through at deceptively high speeds. The Iowa Department of Transportation does not just hand out money for guards to every town that wants one. Usually, a fatality is the best argument for a grant. That’s too high a standard.

The mayor should start a conversation with area legislators — starting with House Transportation Appropriations Chairman Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia — about getting crossing guards installed all across Iowa wherever they are needed.

Rail and auto traffic are getting more congested and faster. Drivers today expect automated assistance to keep them safe. If we can afford stop lights for busy streets and beacons for runways, we should be able to afford automated rail crossing guards.

We would suggest a fee levied against rail traffic in Iowa.  We also would make a precondition of any talk to raise the gasoline tax that a certain amount be set aside for crossing guard installation and maintenance. It would help sell the tax to a skeptical public. It is a real and present need.

Someone should not have to die first to promote safety.

Motorists have a responsibility for their own safety. Stop at uncontrolled intersections. Turn down the radio and listen. Do all the things they taught you in driver education. You are the best way to avoid a train-car crash and fatality. Don’t be the one whose death is responsible for an automated guard at Barton Street.

Pipeline not proven safe

Yes, we need pipelines. And we need power of eminent domain to allow energy corridors (electric, gas or liquid) to transport the product efficiently and safely. Unfortunately, Energy Transfer Partners of Texas was not able to demonstrate during a meeting it held in Storm Lake why its highly volatile crude oil pipeline should run through Buena Vista County.

The company has not addressed our previously stated concerns that all crude oil shipped from the Bakken fields in North Dakota should be stabilized before loading into the pipeline. Stabilization is routine in Texas. In North Dakota, safety might take a back seat to profit and expediency as oil jobbers are lobbying hard against stabilization rules before the state industrial commission.

The oil in its virgin form is highly explosive. It is considered a danger by rail. It should also be considered a danger within a couple miles of Storm Lake in a pipeline.

The company cannot guarantee that the pipeline will not leak. Pressed repeatedly, officials said that it is not intended or designed to leak. Of course not. But pipelines do leak, especially highly pressurized ones like this.

The bond of $250,000 required under Iowa law is insufficient. If the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, Dakota Access Pipeline, goes broke as a limited liability company, only $250,000 would be there to satisfy claims that could result from a pipeline explosion or environmental catastrophe.

We do not doubt that Energy Transfer Partners run a good operation with good intentions. BP could have said the same thing about the Deepwater Horizon before it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Energy Transfer Partners must guarantee us that the project is safe by posting sufficient bond to protect 23 counties in Iowa. And, it must publicly endorse rules to stabilize Bakken crude before it is shipped by rail or pipeline.

Absent that, the Iowa Utilities Board should deny any permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Its safety has not been proven. In fact, there has been virtually no effort to assure us that the project is safe at all. The $250,000 bond itself is testimony that the corporation is not willing to put a bet on its safety. That should be evidence enough.