Environment
12:45 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

BNSF Defends Safety Of Oil Trains To West Coast Regulators

This BNSF train is headed West through West Glacier, Montana and into northern Idaho.
This BNSF train is headed West through West Glacier, Montana and into northern Idaho.
Credit Roy Luck / Flickr Creative Commons

The biggest railroad in the Northwest forcefully defended the safety of oil trains Wednesday.

It happened at a meeting in Seattle of environmental regulators from the West Coast. The context is the rapid rise in crude oil trains coming to the Northwest from North Dakota and this summer's deadly explosion in Quebec.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe hazmat expert Patrick Brady calls that train accident "an anomaly."

"If we have to move these materials, rail is the safest mode of transportation for moving all hazardous materials," he says. "99.997 percent go from origin to destination without ever having a problem."

BNSF Railway told environmental regulators that mile-long crude oil trains from North Dakota could cross the Northwest around five times a day in coming years.

That makes the Washington Department of Ecology's Linda Pilkey-Jarvis especially concerned about the inland Northwest, which hasn't been much of a focus when it comes to oil spills before. She says her agency would like to see railroads "contribute" to a spill readiness fund like marine tankers have to.

"You know, they're presenting a risk so they should pay to keep us ready," says Pilkey-Jarvis.

However, extending the oil import tax to rail transport would require an act of the Washington Legislature. The railroads not surprisingly oppose that.

BNSF says it has ordered additional spill response trailers to be pre-positioned along the Columbia River.