The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued an emergency order requiring Blackwell Northern Gateway Railroad (BNGR), a Class III railroad headquartered in Blackwell, Okla., to "discontinue operation of all trains, locomotives and any other on-track rail vehicles or equipment under any circumstances," stating that the short line is operating with “a complete disregard for the safety of the public.”
Following a derailment that occurred on Dec. 27, 2023, FRA began investigating BNGR’s operations and found that the short line, which operates approximately 37 miles of rail line owned by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Blackwell Industrial Authority (BIA), “has not taken corrective action to resolve safety issues identified by the FRA as posing imminent risks of injury or death.”
According to the emergency order, which was signed by FRA Administrator Amit Bose and took effect Feb. 3, “BNGR has, in its short time under current ownership, operated locomotives not safe for use under Federal law (49 U.S.C. 20701, 49 CFR part 229), allowed locomotives to be operated by persons not properly qualified as engineers in accordance with FRA regulations (49 CFR part 240), and failed to qualify any engineers or conductors under any qualification program in accordance with FRA regulations (49 CFR parts 240 and 242, respectively).
“BNGR has maintained no records of track safety inspections, no records of employees designated and qualified to perform track inspections, and no records that roadway workers have been trained to use roadway maintenance machines or perform safety-essential functions in accordance with FRA regulations (49 CFR parts 213 and 214).”
Additionally, FRA stated in the emergency order that “BNGR has created a public safety emergency through a willful failure to undertake basic responsibilities, such as track inspection and training for safety-related railroad employees in combination with the deliberate actions of one or more individuals in positions of authority at this railroad.”
According to FRA, BNGR may only resume operations and obtain full relief from the emergency order by taking the following actions:
- “Submit to FRA for approval both a current, written program for certifying the qualification of engineers under 49 CFR part 240 and a current, written program for certifying the qualification of conductors under 49 CFR part 242. See 49 CFR 240.101; 49 CFR 242.101.
- “Submit to FRA for approval a list of conductors and engineers who have been certified under the written programs approved by FRA, with complete, written certification determinations for each individual as required under 49 CFR 240.109 for engineers, and 49 CFR 242.109 for conductors.
- “Submit to FRA for approval a written program of operational tests and inspections to be put in effect in accordance with 49 CFR 217.9.
- “Submit to FRA for approval a training program in compliance with 49 CFR part 243 for training, qualification, and oversight of safety-related railroad employees.
- “Submit to FRA for approval an on-track safety program that complies with the requirements of 49 CFR part 214, subpart C, and complete training and qualification records in accordance with that program for all employees who will engage in any on-track work or use of roadway maintenance machines.
- “Submit to FRA a list of designated, qualified persons responsible for maintenance and inspection of track in accordance with 49 CFR 213.7.
- “Accompany FRA track inspectors on a joint inspection of all BNGR track.
- “Complete all remedial actions noted by FRA for track defects identified following the joint inspection and submit records of all required track inspections after the completion of all remedial action.
- “Certify to FRA that a self-audit of HOS records has been completed and submit to FRA any records found to be incorrect or substantially incomplete with corrections to those records, to the extent possible.
- “Certify to FRA that all employees have been trained on HOS requirements under 49 CFR part 228; 49 U.S.C. ch. 211.
- “Certify to FRA that all employees have been trained on the requirements under 49 CFR part 225 to report accidents and incidents to FRA.
- “Submit to FRA all records of inspections required to be maintained under § 234.109 (system malfunction at highway-rail grade crossings).
- “Certify that all locomotives are in proper condition and fit for service in accordance with 49 U.S.C. ch. 207 and 49 CFR part 229.
- “Obtain approval from the FRA Administrator that all requirements of this Order have been met and properly performed.”
The emergency order is available to download in full below.