Washington State: rail safety regulators express concerns

Repost from Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission

Rail safety regulators express concern over proposed Grays Harbor Rail Terminal

November 3, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Rail safety regulators in Washington state submitted comments today expressing concern about the proposed Grays Harbor Rail Terminal (GHRT) in response to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) sent a letter to GHRT addressing specific concerns and requesting rail safety evaluations during the EIS process.

GHRT has proposed to construct a new rail facility at the Port of Grays Harbor. The facility would accommodate an average of 45,000 barrels per day of bulk materials, primarily, various types of crude oil for export.
The UTC recommends that the EIS require comprehensive track and safety evaluations and appropriate upgrades be implemented prior to any operation of trains hauling crude oil on this line.
The letter states:
“In the UTC’s view, the EIS should evaluate the potential impact of the GHRT on the safety of the public on and around all railroad lines and crossings that would be used to deliver crude oil to the facility. Currently, up to six trains per day serve the Port of Grays Harbor. Increasing the train traffic could potentially require upgrades to the rail infrastructure, including upgrading track, new crossings, or new or expanded sidings or upgrades to existing crossings.”
The letter also references three derailments of train cars that occurred during a 16-day period along the rail line between Centralia and the Port of Grays Harbor earlier this year. The frequency of the derailments is a significant concern, and the UTC recommends that the EIS require comprehensive track and safety evaluations, along with appropriate updates, before any operations of trains hauling crude oil on this line.
The commission addresses the issue of blocked crossings due to increased train traffic. Blocked crossings pose an inconvenience to the public and can also increase public safety risks by preventing emergency response vehicles from reaching emergencies on the other side. The UTC recommends that the EIS evaluate and offer mitigation strategies for blocked crossings along the line between Centralia and the GHRT.
Finally, the UTC recommends the EIS include an in-depth analysis of all railroad crossings between Centralia and Hoquiam. The analysis should review whether there are grade crossings along all routes that require additional warning devices; supplemental safety devices; modification of existing warning devices; crossing closures/consolidation or grade separation. UTC staff should be involved in the analysis.
The UTC regulates railroad safety, including approving new grade crossings and closing or altering existing rail crossings, investigating train accidents, inspecting public-railroad crossings, approving safety projects, and managing safety education through Operation Lifesaver.