Kingsbury Column: Train Derailment Brings Out Luddites In North Dakota


I assume Say Anything readers know who Luddites were. Even today every time some industry or area tries to move to the next level of industrialization we find out that not all the Luddites were captured or killed in their time.

Today they have chosen North Dakota as their battleground. It has gotten so absurd that in the most recent train accident in Canada there was a headline that it was not Bakken oil, as if that should be a part of the story.

Maybe it should. I understand Bakken oil is so pure that it takes a minimum of refining. A disadvantage of that is as it is pumped from the ground it is more explosive than most oils. Of course that also means Bakken oil creates less air pollution as it moves through the process to its final use providing energy for all of us.

Today’s Luddites write that the towns are not the same as they were before. That is certainly true. Before, as the new agricultural technology was coming into place in the early 2000s farms were disappearing and the population in every little village and larger town was declining by about one-third every decade. We know what is happening now.

Today in the oil patch Grandma and Grandpa’s house which sold for maybe $5,000, if it sold at all in 2000 , now sells for thousands and thousands of dollars. Imagine how much money the kids that moved to Bismarck, or Minot, or Fargo now have for the children’s college education. Education that would have strapped the parents and the children for a life time now will be paid for out of pocket. If not completely at least incomparable to what it would have been otherwise.

Those same Luddites complain about the roads, and what they say is true for a few years until the state appropriating billions of oil dollars catch up with the situation. They are doing that, and in the end the best roads in the state will be in the oil patch, certainly if we have a pipeline system similar to what is in Texas and not have to pound up and down the road with tanker trucks.

The Luddites complain about the schools, and they are right because the boom crowded a lot of classrooms and changed the student teacher ratios. That problem too is being addressed with
the legislature appropriating the money to answer it. In the end the small town oil patch schools with their stable populations will have the best schools in the state. Unlike towns such as Carrington or Langdon with enrollments that continue to decline a place like Watford City will be the city on the hill and the castle will be the school.

The Luddites also complain about social problems. Things like drugs and prostitution. Is social crime increasing? Yes. That is why the Governor has asked for a review of the situation in preparation for the next legislative session. It is why our elected officials and their assistants get the big money. To figure the answers to the hard problems. The low paid people can figure out the easy problems.

Is it better to understand the science of pipelines, including the fact that a lightning strike while highly unlikely is a possibility and when it occurs is just that, an occurrence not to be denied. There is only one chance out of 178 million of winning the power ball lottery so it makes no sense to ever buy a ticket. Except, don’t tell that to the people who have won.

Is there any journalist who has written a story that tells us that there is a greater possibility of a train accident in the winter, especially as it gets colder because steel contracts in cold weather and the increase in rail gaps makes for a greater possibility of an accident. Has anyone ever considered that those possibilities could be minimized if the properly designed car were required to run immediately in front of those trains looking for those problems. Has anyone ever investigated the possibility that the new longer rail today may work just fine in Texas, or even Illinois, but should not be used in the extreme cold of the northern prairies?

Do any of the columnist who write that the oil industry doesn’t pay enough in taxes ever investigate how much of the money being spent on roads, schools, additional government
employees, or even social programs comes directly from oil? Are those columnist so jealous of
success that they can only write false conclusions?

Finally, has any one tried to draw a correlation between the number of our sons and daughters who have not been killed or lost arms or legs in the middle east to keep that oil pipeline open because we have the oil here at home? Have they calculated how many gallons of energy have not been burned hauling crude from North Dakota to the American market instead of from the middle east, or even South America? Don’t they understand, or don’t they care?

Ralph Kingsbury

Ralph Kingsbury owns Kingsbury Economics. Specializing in statistical research his on line blog is free to readers. It is located at It contains statistics of North Dakota, and NW Minnesota. At the request of his readers it has a section on Grand Forks. It also reports on Montana, South Dakota, and all of Minnesota when appropriate to telling the story of the upper Great Plains both economically and culturally.

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  • toomuchguvmint

    You are right Ralph that technology is a major factor in larger farm size. Not to be underestimated in its role in driving farm size larger is decades of government giving larger farmers greater profit and investment guarantees than smaller farmers. Federal crop insurance is not helping the competitive position of smaller farmers. Perhaps you can do a column Ralph sometime of how the government is financially harming smaller farmers by granting the largest massive insurance subsidies as well as massive investment/profit guarantees.

  • Bill

    Cars that run “right in front” of the train to look for problems? Do you know anything about trains? Do you think a train will be able to stop in time in that scenario? You, sir, are a fool.

    • JoeMN

      Contraction in the rails occurs over a length of time.
      If a track geometry car were to pick up an anomaly in the tracks, it can be used to alert of an impending problem.
      The key is to reduce the risk of derailments in the first place.

      Meanwhile the political solution seems to be trending toward double hull tanker cars, which carry less oil and will take years to place in service.
      That and no pipeline.

    • Ralph Kingsbury

      Limited space means I can’t write every word of every possibility. As I said about the Luddite’s, I assume Say Anything readers know who they were. I assumed the same readers know the phrase “right in front” meant far enough in front the train could stop. ( a1/2 mile? a mile? 2? doesn’t matter to what I said)You obviously don’t understand that and that speaks to you, not me, Bill.

      • Guest Observer

        You know what they say when you “Assume”?

        • Ralph Kingsbury

          I missed that one. Please tell me. Seriously.

          • Guest Observer

            “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”
            ~ Oscar Wilde

  • Ralph Kingsbury

    As I said below, l still am not good at writing a column within the space all my editors, including Rob, would like. So I will use this to explain what I was trying to say that Bill could not understand. When that large elevator north of Grand Forks was built nearly 60 years ago there were 3 0r 4 more of those large round bins. Within a few years 3 or 4 of the granaries split at the welds and collapsed when the weather got to about a -40 (F or C. The temp is nearly the same at -40). That was because of the large curved steel plates contracting and breaking the welds. The rails today are much longer than they used to be. That makes the problem even more critical than in the past, ask an engineer. He will explain it to you. But an advance geometry car as explained by JoeMn below could run in front of any train, but especially one that has a possibility of exploding and prevent that if the people running it are doing their job. I ran a lot of farm machinery that had warning systems looking for impending problems. They prevented a lot of problems, and the people who designed them were not fools. In fact, I considered pretty smart.

    • cylde

      In all the reports in the media of derailments, i can not recall the rails being identified as the problem. I was not looking for explanations as i have faith that the companies know what they are doing and will do the right thing. Lawyers would be all over them if they could find any negligence. Pipe lines are my personal preference for oil transport but no one cares what i think.

  • Lynn Bergman

    The Dakota Resource Council has been around for a long time, perhaps to some degree bringing out the Luddites in all of us?