Snohomish County group tallies oil train shipments, verifies BNSF railway reports

EVERETT — Environmental activists are preparing to head out this month to perform a second annual tally of trains carrying crude oil and coal through Snohomish County.

Snohomish County Train Watch sent 29 volunteers out last year to cover around-the-clock shifts during an entire week in Edmonds, Everett and Marysville. They recorded 16 shipments of oil and 20 of coal.

Soon after the group released those findings, the federal government ordered railroads to disclose the number of crude-oil shipments of more than 1 million gallons passing through each county in each state.

This year, the Train Watch count will be used to verify what BNSF Railway reports to state officials. Volunteers also will keep an eye on the types of tank cars that are in use and the routes the oil trains take.

“We suspect that there are more oil trains now than there were last year, but we’re not sure,” said Dean Smith of Everett, who founded the local Train Watch group. “We’re also curious if any oil trains are coming west over Stevens Pass. We know that the empties (empty tank cars) are going east over Stevens Pass.”

The count is to take place from April 19 to 25. The group plans to strategize during its next regular meeting, April 14 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Everett Public Library auditorium, 2703 Hoyt Ave.

Smith’s group also is planning to practice evacuation drills in the Everett neighborhoods of Port Gardner and Bayside on April 25.

“If we had a wreck here, it would affect Everett most likely,” he said. “We have those landslides (along the Puget Sound bluffs) there that have knocked trains off the tracks before.”

The volume of Bakken crude flowing through Washington from North Dakota and Montana has grown dramatically from nothing in 2011.

BNSF’s most recent report, from September, was of eight to 12 oil shipments of at least 1 million gallons passing through Snohomish County each week.

Each oil train pulls as many as 100 cars with a total of 3 million gallons of oil, the state Department of Ecology has estimated.

Tank cars carrying crude oil can be identified by their red, diamond-shaped hazardous-material placards that bear the number 1267.

Awareness of the issue has risen this year after fiery crashes of crude-oil trains in West Virginia, Illinois and the Canadian province of Ontario.

Washington’s U.S. senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, have sponsored federal legislation to improve the safety of trains. Among many proposed changes is an immediate ban of less-safe models of tank cars, including those known by the name DOT-111. High profile oil-train crashes this year, however, have involved newer, supposedly safer, models.

Other proposed reforms aim to help emergency officials respond to spills and increase penalties for safety violations.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Train Watch

Snohomish County Train Watch plans to discuss an upcoming count of oil and coal trains at its regular monthly meeting.

Time: 6 to 7:30 p.m., April 14

Place: Everett Public Library auditorium, 2703 Hoyt Ave., Everett.

Volunteers can sign up for four-hour shifts, from April 19 to 25, by visiting snocogreennews.org/trainwatch.

More information: 425-328-9979 or deansmith4@me.com.

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