For every employee at BNSF, nothing is more important than safety. For us, safety isn't a slogan - safety is central to everything we do. We spend billions of dollars to improve and maintain our network and rail equipment to make sure that our trains and the rails they ride on are as safe and reliable as can be and that if the unexpected does happen we can respond quickly and effectively.
Why would safety matter so much to us? It's simple really; we don't just run our trains through Washington, we live, our kids go to school and we shop in communities like Bellingham throughout Washington. We are your friends and your neighbors, and just like you, we want our community to be as safe as it can be for our families.
The truth is that rail transportation is the safest, most cost-effective and environmentally preferred way - by far - to move freight. It is approximately four times more fuel efficient to ship freight by rail than to ship by truck, and moving hazardous material by rail is 16 times safer than moving it on the roads.
Railroad safety has been on the rise for years. We have seen a 91 percent decline in hazardous material train accidents since 1980. Last year alone was the safest year on record for BNSF according to the Federal Railroad Administration, rail's safety regulator. This record is impressive, but it is not complete. At BNSF, our safety vision has long been that every accident and injury is preventable. So BNSF does all it can, along with the industry at large, to reduce risk and run our railroad as safely as possible.
To reduce risk even further, BNSF handles some commodities, including crude and ethanol, with additional restrictions. These include lowering speeds and special tracking and security requirements. In fact, railroads recently entered into a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation to strengthen the operational measures that we apply to crude shipments.
Railroad tracks and other infrastructure are just as important to safe operations, and we have been making record improvements here too. BNSF has invested $42 billion since 2000 in infrastructure, equipment and technology, including a record $4 billion last year and a new record plan of $5 billion for 2014. Our track inspections on all routes handling hazardous materials are conducted twice as frequently as required by federal standards.
A conversation on rail safety would not be complete without discussing equipment. Most people don't realize it, but most rail tank cars that run on the nation's rails are not owned by the railroads. They are owned by shippers and others who lease them to move freight. Yet we recently took an unprecedented step to help ensure the tank cars used to move crude oil on our rails will be built to a much stronger standard. BNSF issued a request to the major railcar manufacturers for proposals to build 5,000 new crude oil tank cars, which will set a new standard in safety and exceed all current federal regulations.
Although our safety vision focuses on prevention, we must do everything possible so that BNSF and communities are prepared to mobilize and respond to an incident. BNSF has dedicated emergency responders and prepositioned incident response equipment in locations across our network including several in Washington. Preparation also requires communication with thousands of first responders who spring into action in the event of an accident. Upon request, we share with state and local emergency service and first responders the types of hazardous material that move through their community. This information allows them to train for the best way to respond and we help with training. On average, BNSF trains 3,500 local emergency responders each year in communities all across our network, with 65,000 trained since 1996. Several Washington trainings are being scheduled for this year.
As new energy resources in North America are developed, there are many positive outcomes already happening: a stronger economy, a reinvigorated manufacturing sector, job creation and growing energy independence. America has depended on foreign sources of energy to fuel our economy for far too long. Thanks to new domestic production, we are now able to derive more of that energy right here with the new investment and new jobs remaining in our economy. The refining provides jobs and further bolsters the local economy, while providing an affordable, reliable and safe source of energy. And we need our railroads to bring that source of energy from the fields to the refineries so it can fuel our cars and heat our homes right here in Washington. While these are all good things, your friends and neighbors at BNSF will never take our eyes off of what we consider to be the most important "good" of all - safely operating in our own communities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daryl Ness is Northwest Division general manager for BNSF Railway.