Murray on oil trains: ‘More must be done to reduce the chance of disaster’

Last year, U.S. railroads moved 11 times more crude oil than all the oil moved by trains from 2005 to 2009. As oil train traffic has increased, so have associated tragedies, with stories of spilled crude and fiery explosions spanning the continent. These trains typically carry 100 tank cars — each carry about 29,000 gallons — and they extend 1 to 1.5 miles.

Yet, virtually every day, trains run across and under Seattle’s city streets. Mayor Murray strongly believes the City of Seattle must do everything we can to reduce the risks of catastrophic events. Recently, the Mayor hosted a productive meeting with Matt Rose, BNSF’s Executive Chairman. The following letter is a summary of that meeting.

Seattle is asking BNSF to help make Seattle safer:

What the City is doing to make Seattle safer:

Tactical planning: The Seattle Fire Department, in cooperation with BNSF, has traveled the rail corridor from Everett to Tukwila and developed three distinct response zones based on topography, access and particular conditions along the rail corridor through Seattle.

Incident preparedness: The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) would activate to coordinate unity of citywide efforts focused on a set of objectives based on these priorities:

  • Life safety
  • Incident stabilization
  • Property conservation
  • Environmental protection

Emergency response and recovery planning: EOC activities would include public warnings, stakeholder updates, provisions of logistical resources needed by field crews, coordination of multi-agency plans of action, resolution of any policy issues, activation of any necessary mutual aid agreements, evacuation and/or sheltering of displaced populations, coordination with hospitals and Public Health, and more.

Seattle Fire has developed specific tactical considerations for this type of incident and sends their hazardous materials technicians to specialized oil train response training.

Seattle Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management will appear before Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee on Tuesday, September 16th at 2 p.m. to discuss the City’s disaster preparedness plans.

What the City is asking our partners to do to make Seattle safer:

City representatives are involved with the Washington State Department of Ecology’s study on Marine and Rail Oil Transportation to analyze the risks to public health and safety, and the environmental impacts associated with the transport of oil in Washington state.

At the federal level, the City plans to comment on proposed US Department of Transportation (USDOT) rules that address new requirements for oil spill response plans and rail operations and equipment. Separately, Mayor Murray and members of City Council have written letters to support the USDOT emergency order prohibiting the shipment of Bakken oil in legacy tank cars, which are more susceptible to puncture and explosion.

Washington’s congressional delegation has also made oil train safety a priority and continues to work with Seattle and the region to find ways to protect our citizens, resources and property.