Politics Blog

Week in oil train news: Evacuation zones for Whatcom County and more

Here is a roundup of a few interesting things from this week in oil train stories.


Oil Train Evacuation Map:

A new site called blast-zone.org released an interactive map that allows you to see if your house, school, workplace, favorite store, etc. fall in the potential evacuation zones for explosive train derailments.


Put together by environmental group ForestEthics, the map traces railroad tracks used to transport crude oil and illustrates potential evacuation zones using guidelines from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Emergency Response Guidebook. (See P. 162)


A red line marks the 0.5-mile evacuation zone recommended in case of a spill of explosive materials, like crude oil. A yellow line marks the recommended 1-mile evacuation if that spilled material catches on fire.


That puts most of Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham, Western Washington University, the entire Bellingham waterfront, and much of Ferndale, Custer and Blaine in the evacuation zones for derailments and potential impact zones in case of an oil train fire.


State Firefighters Ask State to Halt Oil Trains Pending Safety Review:

The Seattle P-I’s politics blog reported earlier this week that the Washington State Council of Firefighters have asked Gov. Jay Inslee to do everything he can to stop oil trains from running through the state until an oil train safety study is completed next year.

“The movement of oil by rail through Washington should be halted until completion of a safety study recently authorized by Gov. Jay Inslee,  according to the Washington State Council of Firefighters.

'The WSCFF asks Governor Inslee to do all in his power to halt the movement of this crude by rail until completion of his study in March 2015 and the determination that this crude by rail can be moved safely through our cities and rural areas,' the firefighters said in a toughly worded resolution adopted last week.”

Find the full article here.


Oregon Releases Train Data:

After pressure from media organizations, Oregon's state fire marshal’s office released full versions of the state’s data on how many trains carrying 1 million + gallons of crude oil travel through the state on a weekly basis, the Oregonian reports.


The data was first redacted to not include where oil was coming from or who was transporting it:

“Oregon's state fire marshal's office, part of the Oregon State Police, delayed releasing those reports for nearly a month. Then the agency tried to charge five media outlets $218.75 for them. When the agency at last provided them on July 3, it deleted details that Washington officials made public, claiming that federal law prohibited their disclosure.”

Compared to Washington’s 19 BNSF Bakken crude trains during the week of May 29 to June 4, Oregon had 3.

Find the Oregonian’s full report here.


Workers Doubt Rail Safety Culture:

KUOW put out this meaty report last week, detailing rail worker’s claims that they were fired or punished for trying to conduct proper safety procedures.

The story starts with an incident that happened in Blaine during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics:

“SNOHOMISH, Wash. — Curtis Rookaird thinks BNSF Railway fired him because he took the time to test his train’s brakes.


The rail yard in Blaine, Washington, was on heightened security that day, he remembers, because of the 2010 Winter Olympics underway just across border in Vancouver, B.C.


The black, cylindrical tank cars held hazardous materials like propane, butane and carbon monoxide. The plan was to move the train just more than two miles through three public crossings and onto the main track.Rookaird and the other two crew members were convinced the train first needed a test of its air brakes to guard against a derailment.


But that kind of test can take hours. A BNSF trainmaster overheard Rookaird talking over the radio about the testing. He questioned if it was necessary. The crew was already behind schedule that day.

Find the rest of that story here.


Bellingham Group Remembers Lac-Megantic Derailment Victims:

350 Bellingham, a group of activists concerned about climate change, organized a memorial at Taylor Dock for the 47 victims of the disastrous fire that happened one year ago.


To see pictures from Sunday's event, visit the group's Facebook page.