King County holds disaster exercise for oil train derailment, explosion

By Graham Johnson, KIRO 7 News


King County’s executive says the region is prepared for potential oil train disaster, but there remains a serious risk.

On Wednesday, Dow Constantine detailed results of the Puget Sound area’s first drill simulating an oil train derailment and fire.

On Tuesday, emergency responders gathered in an operations center to practice how they’d work together if a train were to derail and explode at a South Seattle rail yard.

A minor oil train derailment in Seattle last month and explosive disasters around the United States and Canada have focused attention on the danger of transporting Bakken crude.

“This is a new and significant risk for our people, our economy and our environment,” Constantine said.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe participated in the exercise.

The railroad said its responders would take the lead in extinguishing a fire on the tracks, and that the company also trains hundreds of local firefighters for disasters.

A BNSF spokesman estimated the Northwest now averages two and a half oil trains per day, and that 70 percent of the tank cars are of the newer, safer design.

Constantine said he is urging Congress to ban the use of older-style tank cars.

He also announced the formation of a group of regional elected leaders, the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance.

Because the federal government has oversight of the railroads, there’s little more he can do.