Regulatory Gaps for Train Spills?
By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology
On January 26, 2015, the Columbian, a paper in Southwestern Washington state, reported that an oil tanker spilled over 1,600 gallons of Bakken Crude in early November 2014. The train spill was never cleaned up, because frankly, nobody knows where the spill occurred. This issue highlights weaknesses in the incident reporting protocol for trains, which appears to be less stringent than other modes of transporting crude.
Possible Train Spill Routes
To follow the most likely train route for this incident, start at the yellow flag, then follow the line west. The route forks at Spokane – the northernmost route would be the most efficient. View full screen map
While there is not a good place for an oil spill of this size, some places are worse than others – and some of the locations along this train route are pretty bad. For example, the train passes through the southern edge of Glacier National Park in Montana, the scenic Columbia River, and the Spokane and Seattle metropolitan areas.
Significant Reporting Delay
The Columbian article mentions that railroads are required to report spills of hazardous materials in Washington State within 30 minutes of spills being noticed. In this case, however, the spill was apparently not noticed until the tanker car in question was no longer in BNSF custody. Therefore, relevant state and federal regulatory agencies were never made aware of the incident.
Both state and federal officials are now investigating, and we will follow up this post with more details when they are made available.
Hi, – I live in Fargo, ND, where oil trains pass through daily. On Friday December 18 I observed an eastbound oil train passing through Moorhead (right across the river, in Minnesota), at the rate of 1 car per second, at most 1.5 cars per second. Isn’t that rather fast?
Just like on roadways, there are speed limits for trains going through certain areas. Do you happen to know what the speed limit is there? If you know the railway owner you can look up that information here: http://www.multimodalways.org/archives/rrs/rrs.html. We can also help you if you’d like: firstname.lastname@example.org.