Elected officials representing Whatcom County and Bellingham supported the U.S. Department of Transportation's proposal for improving the safety of trains carrying crude oil, with destinations that include Cherry Point.
The officials also said the rule, which has not been finalized, could be improved.
"The proposed rule released today ... is certainly a step in the right direction," said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, in a statement issued Wednesday, July 23. Murray is chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. The safety programs she wrote into the 2015 transportation bill made it into the draft rule.
"There is still more work to be done, by both regulators and industry, to ensure that crude oil can be transported safely by rail," she said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, will work with his transportation committee to determine which of the tank car options would be safest, he said in his written response to the proposed rule.
"Getting the most dangerous tank cars off the rails is important, so I welcome DOT's decision to require the phase-out or retrofit of (the older) tank cars," Larsen said.
Larsen represents Bellingham and the southwest county, and is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He indicated he might call for the expansion of a recent federal decision to require railroad companies to report levels of oil-train traffic to state emergency management agencies.
"I also have questions for DOT about whether the 1 million-gallon threshold for notifying states about oil trains coming through their communities is the right level. And I want to learn more about the impact speed limits will have on traffic in Northwest Washington," Larsen said.
The newer-model tank cars, considered safer, would need to travel at a reduced speed of 40 mph only in cities with a population of 100,000 or more, meaning that the lower speed wouldn't apply in Bellingham.
That didn't suit Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville.
"I support the action taken by the Department of Transportation to phase out older model tank cars," Linville said in an emailed statement. "I also support the proposal to create a maximum 40 mph speed limit for those cars in urban areas. I object to the 100,000 population limit, which is too high and would not include trains running through Bellingham and many other Western Washington cities. The city will comment on the DOT proposal to ask that they lower the population limit for urban areas."
A 60-day comment period for the proposed tank-car rule begins after it is published in the federal register. Then the public may comment by going to regulations.gov. Typing "tank car standards" in the search box should bring up the rule and a link for commenting.