A train carrying nearly 100 cars of crude oil went off the track under the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle early Thursday. Nobody was hurt, no oil leaked and there was no threat to the public when five of the train’s 102 cars went off the track about 2 a.m., said BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas.
But concerns about the impacts of increased oil vessel and train traffic were stoked by the morning derailment. It came the same day as a hearing in Seattle on increased oil transport to Cherry Point. The hearing, about a dock expansion proposed by BP at its Cherry Point refinery, was preceded by a rally against the plan just outside the Federal Center South building.
The train that derailed was going slower than 5 mph and was pulling out of the BNSF rail yard when the wheels of the second of two locomotives left the track, as did a car loaded with sand and the next three cars, which were each filled with an estimated 28,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, Melonas said. An adjacent rail line remained open, he said, and other rail traffic was able to pass.
The train, loaded at Bakken, N.D., was bound for the refinery at Anacortes, Melonas said. The tanker cars that derailed are newer, enhanced-safety models with special safeguards installed, he said. The train also was traveling on newly upgraded track.
He said an investigation is under way as to the cause of the derailment.
Every member of the Seattle City Council on Wednesday signed a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx requesting an emergency order to prohibit the shipment of Bakken crude oil through Seattle in older DOT-111 tank train cars.
“Banning the shipment of highly flammable crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank cars is necessary to abate the unsafe conditions posing an imminent hazard to human life, communities and the environment,” the letter states.
Oil has been shipped by rail through Washington for decades, Melonas said. What’s new is the use of so-called unit trains: trains made up of more than 100 cars, going from a single destination to a single destination. Unit trains loaded with oil have been deployed by BNSF on Washington tracks for the past two years to meet demand, Melonas said.
Every 24 hours, about 2 1/2 unit trains on average loaded with 100 or so cars of oil roll through Washington, Melonas said. About 70 percent of the BNSF cars in use in the Northwest are of a new design, with safety improvements including thicker steel construction and safety mechanisms around tank valves, Melonas said.
So far there have been no spills in Washington by unit trains carrying oil, said Lisa Copeland, spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology. But concern is heightened along with shipping volumes.
She said Ecology staff were on the scene monitoring the derailment Thursday, and had deployed oil-containment booms, just in case.