News & Reviews News Wire FRA shuts down Oklahoma short line

FRA shuts down Oklahoma short line

By David Lassen | February 6, 2024

| Last updated on February 7, 2024

Agency finds Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad was operating ‘with complete disregard for safety of the public’

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Portion of Oklahoma railroad map showing Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad
A detail from the Oklahoma State Rail Map shows the Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad (in red). Oklahoma Department of Transportation

WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration has issued an emergency order shutting down the Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad, a 37-mile, Class III short line in Oklahoma, saying the railroad is “operating with a complete disregard for the safety of the public and has not taken corrective action to resolve safety issues … posing imminent risks of injury or death.”

The FRA order, issued Feb. 2 and signed by FRA Administrator Amit Bose, took effect Feb. 3. It says an agency investigation found a “pattern of gross negligence and willful failures to comply with Federal safety regulations … [that] persuades FRA that reliance alone upon the assurances and cooperation of BNGR is not possible, consistent with public safety.” It requires the railroad to take 14 steps regarding certification, inspection, and safety programs before the FRA will conduct inspections and determine whether the railroad can resume operation, and assesses more than $177,000 in penalties.

The company changed ownership around Oct. 1, 2023, and the FRA says that since that time, it has:

— Operated locomotives not safe for use under federal law;

— Allowed locomotives to be operated by persons not properly qualified as engineers;

— Failed to qualify engineers or conductors under any program in accordance with FRA regulations;

— Maintained no records of track inspections, no records of employees designated or qualified to perform track inspections, and no records of workers trained to use maintenance equipment or perform “safety-essential functions.”

The FRA says it began its investigation following a Dec. 27, 2023, derailment, and found that the railroad had failed to report at least two derailments it had discovered through its investigation. Both derailments involved trains operated by individuals not qualified as engineers, and at least one involved a locomotive several years past a required inspection. The agency also says is there evidence that locomotives were operated by people not employed by the railroad and with no FRA qualifications, and that employees were directed by ownership to provide false information including false engineer certification and hours of service records.

Following a Jan. 17 finding by the FRA that the railroad had no track inspection program and no inspection records under current ownership, a railroad official told the agency that all track would be taken out of service. But on Jan. 28, witnesses reported an on-track hi-rail vehicle nearly collided with a vehicle at a BNGR grade crossing near Blackwell, which the FRA order says “demonstrates a cascade of failures to protect life and safety.”

The Blackwell Northern, established in 2005, operates on tracks owned by the state of Oklahoma and the Blackwell Industrial Authority between Blackwell and Hunnewell, Kansas, with trackage rights to Wellington, Kan., where it interchanges with BNSF Railway. Blackwell, the railroad’s headquarters, is approximately 65 miles south of Wichita, Kan., and 100 miles north of Oklahoma City, Okla.

5 thoughts on “FRA shuts down Oklahoma short line

  1. Wonder what would happen to the Class Ones if the FRA was as vigilant in its inspections of their operations as they seem to be with the small-time short line operators. Not knocking the FRA for doing there job but I would bet that there are thousands of violations that need looking after on the Big Boys (no pun intended) than just the small easy pickings of a small operator.

  2. What happens to the road’s customers during this shutdown period? Will another RR be designated to operate in the interim?

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