Washington State recommends 40 measures to improve oil train safety

Repost from TDN.com, Longview, WA

Ecology report details plans to make oil trains safer

By Shari Phiel, December 01, 2014

A new, 500-page state report says railroad oil shipments through Washington may increase sevenfold in the next six years and recommends 40 measures to improve safety and protect the environment.

The state Department of Ecology report, released Monday, recommends additional spending for emergency planning, training and equipment, rail inspections and ongoing risk assessments.

The study does not outline the costs of measures it is suggesting to the railroad industry and the Legislature. Lawmakers already are grappling with budget shortfalls to fund court-ordered and voter-approved mandates for improving public schools.

“There’s a lot of people concerned about oil trains, including myself. But I think whatever we do it has to be reasonable and not go so far as to be unrealistic for the industry,” state Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said Monday.

The Legislature requested the study based on recent changes in how crude oil moves through rail corridors and Washington waters.

Ecology’s report says 19 crude oil unit trains — each measuring 100 cars — now move through Washington each week. That number could grow to 137 trains per week by 2020 if the full build-out of proposed oil terminals is permitted, Ecology said.

The oil is coming from the North Dakota’s Bakken area. Many of the trains run through the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main lines that run through Cowlitz County.

“I don’t have a problem with oil trains if the safety stuff that needs to be done is done,” Takko said.

But increased safety measures aren’t the only issues the state is considering. The Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division, which helped research and compile Ecology’s report, also looked at how emergency crews would respond to an oil spill or train derailment.

“In our survey of first responders, we heard from a large percentage of districts that believe they need additional training or resources to effectively respond to a train derailment and fire,” EMD spokeswoman Karen Ferreira said.

Ecology included recommendations for more track, upgrades to equipment and crossing signals, furnishing oil spill response equipment, and developing hazardous materials response teams.

Opponents to crude oil shipments through the Pacific Northwest aren’t looking to the state for answers.

“There’s really not a lot the state can do. This is a federal issue,” Longview activist John Green said.

Burlington Northern spokesman Gus Melonas had not seen the report, but he said the railroad “is committed to safely move all types of commodities through Longview. We have thorough processes for inspection, detection … and will continue to invest to protect the railroad, public and environment complying with Federal standards. BNSF will continue to work closely with Washington state on future safety discussions.”

The final report will be delivered to the Legislature on March 1.