More Than 15 Oil Trains Per Week Travel Through Washington

By Tony Schick, OPB

The public learned Tuesday just how many trains are hauling oil from North Dakota through Washington:

Fifteen per week through 10 different counties, according to railroad notifications released by the Washington Military Department.

Klickitat County in south-central Washington sees the most traffic, with 19 trains of over 1 million gallons per week passing through. Adams, Franklin, Skamania and Clark counties each have a listed count of 18 trains per week. More than 10 trains per week also pass through King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties.

The notifications were provided as part of an emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation, meant to ensure state regulators and emergency responders were well informed about the shipments of particularly volatile Bakken oil, which has been involved in a string of fiery explosions.

Those notifications became the subject of a transparency debate after the railroads asked states to sign nondisclosure agreements. Washington refused to sign the agreement, saying it would violate the state’s public records law. But upon receiving public records requests the state gave the railroads a 10-day window to seek court injunctions.

After no railroads sought injunctions, the state posted all of the records online Tuesday.

Three other railroads also filed notifications. Union Pacific informed the state it does carry enough Bakken crude — meaning no shipments of more than 1 million gallons or roughly 35 tank cars — to be required to disclose. Portland and Western Railroad carries trains three trains per week from Vancouver across the Columbia river and into Clatskanie, Oregon. Tacoma Rail handles three trains per week in Pierce County received from BNSF.

In Oregon, Union Pacific, Portland and Western and BNSF all filed notifications. Oregon has yet to decide whether it will release the information to the public. Richard Hoover, spokesman for the State Fire Marshal’s office, said a decision is still likely a week or more away.



Data Sources: BNSF, Energy Information Administration, National Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau. Map by Jordan Wirfs-Brock, courtesy of Inside Energy.