W.Va. Oil Train Derailment Has NW Lawmakers Thinking About Safety

Reports say up to 18 oil trains a week travel along the Washington side of the Columbia River, and up to six oil trains a week are traveling through the state of Oregon along the Columbia River and through central Oregon.Tony Schick

Reports say up to 18 oil trains a week travel along the Washington side of the Columbia River, and up to six oil trains a week are traveling through the state of Oregon along the Columbia River and through central Oregon.
Tony Schick

 

By Courtney Flatt, OPB

 

This week’s fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia has lawmakers thinking about oil-by-rail safety through the Northwest. There has been a dramatic increase in oil trains traveling through the region to reach West coast refineries.

Committees in the Washington legislature are considering two bills. Senate Bill 5057 — supported by the oil industry — would expand the barrel tax to include oil shipped by rail. House Bill 1449 — supported by environmental groups — could change how oil-by-rail is regulated across the state.

“If there were to be an accident in Washington state, I, personally, would want to be able to say I did everything I could do to make sure that didn’t happen,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said during a Ways and Means committee hearing.

Oil safety bills are also moving through the Oregon Legislature.

Darcy Nonemacher, the legislative director for the Washington Environmental Council, said the recent derailment has more people thinking about how oil is transported.

“I think the lesson is that we do need to act. There’s lots of things that need to happen whether it’s at the federal, state, or local level,” Nonemacher said.

The train that derailed in West Virginia was hauling oil with newer tank cars. Those newer designs are supposed to better handle derailments than older cars.

That’s why oil-by-rail critic Eric de Place says oil transportation safety is a major concern.

“We need to just hit pause. We need to stop doing it until we have a way to transport that oil safely, which we don’t have right now,” says de Place, a researcher at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, which doesn’t support oil-by-rail.

In Washington, the oil and rail industries are supportive of Senate Bill 5057. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, will also take $10 million from the Model Toxics Control Account to allow the state Department of Ecology to provide grants for equipment and first responders.

“We believe it’s critical to implementing the policy in the underlying bill. We also believe this funding complements the efforts we have underway within the railroad to train locally first responder preparation efforts,” said Bill Stauffacher, with BNSF Railway.

House Bill 1449 would require planning for oil spill response in Washington state and it would require companies to disclose information about transportation routes.

This doc about “bomb trains” filled with crude oil will make your head explode

By Ted Alvarez, Grist

 

VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.

 

Oh, and you can find out if you live near a bomb-train blast zone right here. (Spoiler alert: You probably do.)

Slide pushes Amtrak train off tracks in Everett

No injuries reported when Empire Builder derails in Everett

By Sharon Salyer, The Herald

Doug Ramsay / For the HeraldBurlington Northern Santa Fe and Amtrak officials examine the last two coaches of the Chicago to Seattle Empire Builder that derailed just north of Howarth Park in Everett on Sunday morning. There were no injuries in the derailment and passengers from the derailed cars were moved to the front cars as the train continued to Seattle with the two derailed cars being left behind.

Doug Ramsay / For the Herald
Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Amtrak officials examine the last two coaches of the Chicago to Seattle Empire Builder that derailed just north of Howarth Park in Everett on Sunday morning. There were no injuries in the derailment and passengers from the derailed cars were moved to the front cars as the train continued to Seattle with the two derailed cars being left behind.

An Amtrak train traveling from Chicago to Seattle was hit by a mudslide near Howarth Park in Everett on Sunday morning, derailing the last three passengers cars, which tilted but remained upright.

No injuries were reported among the 86 passengers and 11 crew members, an Amtrak spokesman said.

Three rail cars remained blocking the tracks. The rest of the train was decoupled and continued on to Mukilteo to discharge passengers, Rick Robinson, fire marshal for the Everett Fire Department. Passengers were bused to Seattle.

Sound Transit announced Sunday on its website that Sounder service was cancelled for Monday and Tuesday. Amtrak also said its train service would be affected between Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore., until after Tuesday, with passengers being taken by bus.

After earlier slides this winter passenger trains have been barred from the tracks for 48 hours after a slide.

The tracks between Seattle and Everett have been plagued with slides in recent months.

“We’ve had more than 200 slides this past winter and spring,” said Gus Melonas, spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the tracks.

The landslide occurred about 8:30 a.m., affecting two coach cars and the train’s dining car.

The slide was triggered about 100 feet up a 200-foot cliff, depositing a patch of dirt and debris 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide along the tracks a quarter-mile north of Howarth Park, Melonas said.

The force of the slide was enough to “tip the rails over, not the cars, just the rails,” Robinson said.

Two ladder trucks, three engine trucks and two medic units were dispatched to the scene.

About one-quarter mile of track needed to be realigned with the repairs expected to be completed by Monday morning, Melonas said. No estimate of the cost to repair the track was immediately available.

The slide affected the inner line of two main rail lines. However, freight train traffic was not disrupted and two freight trains moved through the area Sunday afternoon, Melonas said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.