The cause of two AGP grain cars derailing in Aberdeen Tuesday morning is still under investigation, but what it means in relationship to the possibility of oil trains coming to Grays Harbor is the question most people were asking in the aftermath.
More than five cars separated from the train not far from the Chehalis River, spilling grain at the crossing at South Washington Street. Michael Williams, director of corporate communications for the Genesee &Wyoming railroad, said the train was traveling at 5 mph when it derailed.
“The railroad is safe and operates safely and efficiently today,” Williams said. “Cars that transport hazardous materials such as crude oil are much more secure than covered hopper grain cars. There would be upgrades and improvements to the line before handling unit trains of crude oil. There’s different operating protocols in place for unit trains of crude oil. So there’s really no comparison. It would be different track, different cars, different operating protocols.”
Genesee &Wyoming is the parent company of the Puget Sound &Pacific Railroad, the shortline rail operator responsible for the Grays Harbor area.
“I’ve not been impressed by the railroad so far, but statements like that don’t boost my confidence an awful lot,” said Arnie Martin of Citizens for a Clean Harbor, a group working to oppose oil terminals on Grays Harbor. “The railroads are the least revealing people I know. So far I’m quite impressed with them hiding behind all the federal agencies, Homeland Security and so on. I wish they’d tell us more about their plans” for crude oil shipping and spill cleanup.
Rail safety has been high on the list of concerns for opponents of three proposals to ship and store crude oil at the Port of Grays Harbor. Westway Terminals and Imperium Renewables are looking to expand their existing facilities to include crude oil, and are currently in the scoping process for an Environmental Impact Statement. U.S. Development has filed permit applications to start a third facility dedicated to crude oil shipping.
All three facilities would rely on rail shipments of crude oil. Asked whether the derailment gives Port commissioners any concern about crude oil, Commission President Stan Pinnick said, “We’re always concerned on a train derailment of any kind, and want to know the reasons why and how come and what can happen to prevent it.”
“I think it just shows the importance of inspection, maintenance and I know the railroad, before any oil would ever come in, has plans to enhance and strengthen the main line, so a lot of work would be done before crude-by-rail would be coming through,” Pinnick added.
The track is inspected once a week, according to Federal Rail Administration guidelines, railroad officials said.
“In my opinion, it’s not at all relevant” to crude oil, Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson said of the derailment. “You hate to see it happen, glad nobody got hurt, and no damage other than to the cars. It’s just a matter of picking it up. It does happen from time to time.”
Nelson said a grain car derailment happened once several years ago, but couldn’t recall the date. He said Tuesday’s incident and the quick response demonstrates the railroad’s commitment to safety, and regional leaders for the railroad would be changing policies if needed to prevent a similar incident in the future.
“The G&W commitment to safety pays off in these situations as they demonstrate firsthand their ability to respond quickly and efficiently to minimize damage and delays to the community,” he added. “With a common goal to create jobs and commerce by safely moving goods to global markets, the Port is proud to have a partner like the PSAP that is committed to safety while at the same time working to create jobs in our community.”
“It just speaks so poorly of the track maintenance,” Martin said. “I can’t imagine why they would let the track get in such bad condition that they can have a derailment at 5 mph.”