BNSF Gives Safety Assurances After Seattle Leaders Raise Oil Train Concerns
SEATTLE -- The Northwest's biggest oil-by-rail transporter is giving its assurances that it can safely move millions of gallons of volatile crude through the city of Seattle.
BNSF Railway's letter describing its safety measures follows a report by Seattle public safety agencies highlighting several weaknesses in the city’s ability to respond to an oil train accident.
The letter also followed a recent meeting between Matthew Rose of BNSF and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. The two had discussed the city’s concern about the risks associated with moving hazardous materials - including crude oil from North Dakota - through Seattle.
In the letter, Rose told Mayor Murray that BNSF Railway would ensure that trains carrying hazardous materials will not enter King Street Tunnel when any passenger trains are present.
The company also pledged to station a trailer equipped with firefighting foam near the tunnel and working with the Seattle Fire Department to develop a response plan.
More than 10 oil trains travel through Seattle each week, servicing Puget Sound refineries.
The U.S. rail system has seen a 6,000 percent increase in crude by rail since 2007 after a boom in production out of North Dakota exceeded the region’s pipeline capacity.
In Washington state, crude by rail has gone from near zero to an estimated 55 million barrels in 2014. As crude-by-rail transport rises, concerns have emerged about rail safety. An EarthFix investigation revealed troubling patterns in the way BNSF Railway deals with fatigued workers and whistleblowers — particularly those who voice concerns about safety.
Several high-profile derailments and explosions have raised public awareness about the role railroads are playing in transporting North Dakota crude. The biggest such explosion happened in July, 2013, when of last year a train carrying North Dakota oil derailed and exploded in Quebec, killing 47 people.
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