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Transportation Officials Say 3,000 Rail Crossings In Washington Go Uninspected

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U.S. Department of Transportation
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Washington’s rail safety regulator says there are about 3,000 rail crossings in the state that inspectors have never looked at because they sit on private land.

Experts say these could be problem areas as more trains carry crude oil through the state. They plan to ask the legislature for more authority.

state study on oil transport through Washington finds that the amount of crude oil shipped from North Dakota could triple in the next five years. In two decades, more than 16 trains carrying oil could cross the state every day.

But safety regulators say their ability to inspect the state's rail system hasn't kept pace. And in the case of railroad crossings on private land, neither the state nor the federal government has the authority to make inspections, according to Jason Lewis at Washington's Utilities and Transportation Commission.

Lewis said these crossings aren't just in farm country; many are at ports, warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

“And right now, no one's looking at those,” Lewis said. “So we would like to go in and look at those and require signage so people know that a crossing's there and that there is a minimal level of safety.”

Lewis said places where roads cross the tracks are especially prone to rail accidents.

The commission is also asking to increase the number of state inspectors from four to 12.

The requests are among a dozen safety recommendations made in the preliminary state report on oil transport by rail in Washington. The recommendations range from $200,000 to $4.6 million in estimated cost.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.