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Taking Action on Oil Trains

Several weeks ago an oil train derailed in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood.  The derailment happened under the Magnolia bridge and alongside a bike path. The outcome truly could have been a disaster but the incident occurred without injury or destruction of property.

For years I have been expressing concern about the risks to neighborhoods that are on both sides of the rail lines which run through Seattle.  Our Office of Emergency Management has assured me that they are doing what they can to be prepared for such event.

Preparing for a response is important but I want to prevent emergencies.  The incident is an example of how important the issue of transportation of hazardous material such as oil is an urgent matter for which we must continue to seek solutions.

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The City Council has been taking steps to do what a City can on this issues which is a national concern.  Just days before the Magnolia derailment occurred, I joined the rest of the Council in signing a letter calling for the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to issue an emergency order prohibiting the shipment of Bakken crude oil in tank cars considered the least safe for the shipment of oil. The most vulnerable cars are called “Legacy DOT-111 Tank Train Cars”.  This was the first nationwide action by a City Council to call for the immediate end to oil train transport near neighborhoods.

Our letter comes after the Council unanimously passed a Resolution earlier this year calling on the Governor, Washington Department of Ecology, and the Federal government to take action on this issue. The Director of the City’s Office of Emergency Management also testified before the U.S. Senate this spring regarding the City’s concerns regarding oil train transport through Seattle.

While it is the Federal government that has the primary authority to regulate the travel of oil trains, there are other steps we can take in Seattle. For example, I participate on a statewide Freight Rail Committee along with other local elected officials. The Committee was created by the Association of Washington Cities. I intend to work with my colleagues from other cities to continue to find ways to bring about appropriate restrictions and more safety on crude oil transport in our region.  My preference would be that the shipment of the oil would not be allowed.

As Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, I will continue to work on this issue of the shipment of oil trains in Seattle. The people living and working near these railroad tracks should not be at risks that they pose.

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