Report Finds Weakness In Seattle’s Ability To Respond To Oil Train Mishap

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW


A new report by public safety agencies highlights several weaknesses in Seattle’s ability to respond to an oil train accident.

The report to the Seattle City Council was complied by the Seattle Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management.

At the top of the report’s list of concerns: the 100 year old tunnel that runs through the middle of downtown Seattle. The report said that the lack of safety systems in the Great Northern tunnel will present significant challenges to first responders.

Next on the list: landslides along Puget Sound. The stretch of track between Seattle and Everett has banks that are prone to slides.

The report also found Seattle’s Citizen Notification System to be outdated. City officials could have to go door to door alerting residents in person in the event of an oil train emergency.

Train tracks are usually located in flat areas. In King County, that can also mean areas that are prone to liquefaction during an earthquake, the report found.

BNSF Railway spokeswoman Courtney Wallace did not respond to an interview request. She previously told via email that the report’s recommendations were under review. She later added that BNSF is working to connect its communication system in the tunnel with a system the fire department uses and that the company is also making plans to provide mobile fan units at both tunnel-ends.

A BNSF Railway oil train derailed in Seattle in July. No oil was spilled.

Especially volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota is being transported by rail to refineries and ports throughout North America — including in the Northwest. Between 8 and 13 oil trains traveling through Seattle each week, according to rail industry reports made public this year.