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Cantwell, Fire Chiefs Pressing For More Regulation Of Oil Trains

Highly volatile Bakken  crude oil poses a serious threat to the safety of communities located along rail lines. Just since February, there have been four fiery derailments in the US and Canada.  Now Democrats in the U.S. Senate are pressing for more regulation.

Speaking at the the Emergency Operations Center near a downtown Seattle rail tunnel, U.S. Sen. Maria  Cantwell (D- Wash.) said it’s frustrating to see how slowly federal officials are moving when so much explosive oil is coming through.

And  a disaster like the one in Quebec, where 47 people died, would be even worse if it happened here.

“Which is why this issue is so important right now,”she said, flanked by fire chiefs, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine. 

“Right now we are only seeing 18 oil trains coming through the state each week, but that could increase to 16 trains a day over the next 20 years,” Cantwell said.

In Seattle, more than 170,000 people live within a half mile of train tracks.

rail_corridors_sea_oil_trains_04_07_2015.jpg
Credit Bellamy pailthorp
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This map, displayed at Cantwell's press event on April 7th, 2015, shows the routes traveled by trains moving oil through Seattle, as well as the density of populations living near the tracks.

Cantwell says oil field operators in North Dakota are putting explosive substances into the product that even the oil industry doesn’t want.

One of the things her proposed legislation would do is limit the volatile components allowed.

The law would also immediately halt the use of older model tank cars and authorize new funding for first responders.

Also on Tuesday, the Swinomish Tribe  filed suit in federal court to stop Bakken crude oil trains.  

The tribe says the tracks laid by  the Burlington Nortern Sante Fe Railway in the 1800s were put there without proper consent. Those tracks currently serve two Anacortes refineries.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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