Mayo goes on the attackby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
The Mayo Clinic is stepping up its attack on the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad. Mayo says the DM & E has the worst safety record of any railroad in the country and that the company's proposed expansion through Rochester would jeopardize patient safety at Mayo.
Rochester, Minn. — The Mayo-led Rochester Coalition has hired a new gun in its fight against the DM & E. Larry Mann is a rail safety expert. He helped draft the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970.
"Over a 15 year period this railroad has one of the worst safety records of any in the nation whatever criterion you use," Mann says. "And the source is the Federal Railroad Administration statistical information."
Mann says from 2000 to 2005 the company reported accidents at a rate of 7.5 times greater than the national average. That's 2.03 accidents per million train miles for all rail companies.
Mann says half the DM & E's accidents were caused by problems other than poor track. And he suggests the company might be saying accidents are track related when they aren't.
The DM & E is asking the Federal Rail Administration for a $2.5 billion federal loan to rebuild the company's track. The money would also go to extend the railroad's line from the Powder River Basin in Montana to the Mississippi River.
Mann says the FRA has repeatedly warned the company about its poor safety record. Last year the agency imposed a Safety Compliance Agreement on the company. The agreements are made only after numerous accidents and incidents on a railroad. Mann says the FRA is requiring the DM & E to improve in employee training, track safety, bridge inspection and the warning systems at highway-rail grade crossing.
"The Federal Railroad Administration has identified that there is poor management on this railroad" Mann says. "If there is poor management on the railroad it doesn't matter how much money they're going to have. It's not going to operate safely. The Federal Railroad Administration also noted that there was poor training on the railroad, well that's indicative also of poor management."
Mann wasn't the only national face at the Washington press conference. Democratic Senator Mark Dayton joined the group. Coalition representatives say Democratic Representative Betty McCollum will also make a statement against the federal loan on the U-S House floor.
For his part DM & E's president Kevin Schieffer says this is all a stalling tactic. He says he hasn't looked at Mayo's figures, but he says his safety record is not significantly different than any other railroad company. He says the Coalition is unfairly comparing DM & E with larger, more recently renovated operations. However, he acknowledges that safety is a problem for the company.
"We have not had a good safety record in the past compared to railroads with good infrastructure. It's easy to run on new rail, it's a huge challenge to run on rial that is 80 years old. That's how old the rail is that goes through Rochester today. It averages 60 defects per mile," Schieffer says.
That is why Schieffer says the track needs to be replaced. And to counter the Coalition's claim, DM & E released the statistic that from 2004 through 2006 traffic increased on its line by 11 percent but accidents decreased by 52 percent. That was just two years after the company extended its track miles by purchasing the newer Iowa Chicago and Eastern Railroad.
Schieffer insists the FRA's Safety Compliance Agreement has helped his company become a safety-conscious culture.
"You can talk about training. Should we have been doing more training," he asks. "Absolutely. The only problem with it, for the first 17 years, from a resource allocation standpoint, when you have a hundred dollars to fix a couple thousand dollars worth of problems you have to figure out where to put that hundred dollars."
Schieffer says he'd like to see those dollars come from the FRA. And he says he'd also like Mayo Clinic to stop stalling and start negotiating.