BNSF Railway

Dean Smith, who retired from the NSA, now tracks oil trains. He has gotten more information to the state in one week than oil companies have in three years.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

EVERETT, Wash. – Dean Smith, 72, sits in his car by the tracks north of Seattle.

It’s a dark, rainy Tuesday night, and Smith waits for an oil train to come through town. These trains are distinctive: A mile long, they haul 100 or so black, pill-shaped cars that each carry 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

Legislation Would Mandate Bigger Crews On Oil Trains

Feb 4, 2015

A growing number of oil trains rolling through Washington has emergency responders and rail workers calling for bigger crews on board to better protect human health and the environment.

SEATTLE -- The Northwest's biggest oil-by-rail transporter is giving its assurances that it can safely move millions of gallons of volatile crude through the city of Seattle.

BNSF Railway's letter describing its safety measures follows a report by Seattle public safety agencies highlighting several weaknesses in the city’s ability to respond to an oil train accident.

A new report by public safety agencies highlights several weaknesses in Seattle's ability to respond to an oil train accident.

The report to the Seattle City Council was complied by the Seattle Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management.

At the top of the report's list of concerns: the 100 year old tunnel that runs through the middle of downtown Seattle. The report said that the lack of safety systems in the Great Northern tunnel will present significant challenges to first responders.

KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Three tanker cars in an oil train from North Dakota derailed at a rail yard in Seattle early Thursday, but BNSF Railway says none of the oil spilled.

EarthFix Photo/Tony Schick

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.

BNSF Railway said Friday it will comply with Saturday's federal deadline to provide states with information about the frequency and routes of oil trains from North Dakota and Montana.

EarthFix Photo/Katie Campbell

Neither states nor the federal government have oversight over how railroads plan for responding to spills from trains carrying crude oil, meaning environmental regulators cannot identify gaps in the plans or verify a railroad’s abilities to carry them out.