Commissioner’s Corner
Commissioner Randy Pinocci
Montana Public Service Commission

When my constituents in North Central and Eastern Montana ask me exactly what the Montana Public Service Commission does, I usually say, “We try to make sure that the regulated services provided to Montanans are:  1) Safe; 2) Reliable; and 3) Affordable.”

Many Montanans know that we oversee the monopoly industries that provide us with electrical power, natural gas, and some telecommunications, water, and transportation services we rely on every day.  Mostly, our regulatory responsibilities are economic in nature, but some of our most important responsibilities are not just about economic reliability and efficiency, but also have a direct impact on public safety.

One important example of this is our role in railroad safety inspections. In cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Montana PSC conducts “motive power, and equipment” (MP&E) inspections of locomotives and railroad cars to enhance railroad safety.  We do these inspections with very limited resources. We have two very dedicated and talented inspectors who examine the locomotives, car couplings, brake systems, and wheel sets of literally thousands of rail cars each year.

As a former Montana legislator and as the Commissioner who represents Public Service Commission District 1, by far the largest geographical area of the five PSC districts, and the district with the greatest number of trains and miles of railroad track in our state, I have been focused on railroad safety even before I was elected to serve on the PSC.

For years, I have been concerned that the federal government hasn’t been doing enough to support railroad safety. In Montana we have 3,680 miles of railroad track. That track and those roadbeds are subjected not only to the stress of millions of tons locomotives and train cars that travel over them every year and the missions of tons of cargo carried in those cars; they are also subject to the elements which can included dramatic weather and temperature extremes during the course of a single day.

That’s why I am so happy that many of my former colleagues in the Montana Legislature have taken my message regarding railroad safety to heart and they appear ready to act to improve and expand the Montana Public Service Commission’s railroad safety inspection program. I was pleased to attend a recent meeting of the Legislature’s Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee where I heard strong bipartisan support for allowing the PSC to expand our safety inspection program to include inspections of railroad tracks and operating procedures, two of the biggest safety considerations in rail transportation.

Railroad accidents and incidents can not only result in death, injury, and economic losses, they can also result in hazardous material spills and other forms of environmental damage. We need to do everything we can to prevent situations like the April 4, 2023, Paradise derailment which was caused by track failure, or the June 24, 2023, Reed Point derailment in which 8 hazmat cars derailed. The memory of the health problems and economic devastation caused by the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment and explosion should serve as a wake-up call for all railroad safety officials and I, for one, am happy that Montana and has heard the call and appears ready to act to help the Montana PSC ensure our rail transportation system is safe, reliable, and efficient.