Local officials working on oil train safety plan



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Posted on June 22, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 23 at 5:53 AM

SEATTLE -- King County Council members are expected to approve a plan Monday to join other agencies in a comprehensive safety plan to deal with possible accidents involving Bakken oil train derailments. 

The plan would also require railroad companies to provide information to first responders regarding shipments, which coincides with similar calls by federal and state officials.

"It's really a new problem," said King County Councilman Rod Dembowski. "The Bakken oil is so unique, it is so flammable, it is so combustible, it is so explosive."

Bakken oil is taken from fields in North Dakota, Montana and Canada and shipped to refineries on the coast, including in Washington state.  The material, which is among the most combustible on earth, is in high demand.

Railroad companies have responded to concerns from local officials.  Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which handles most of the oil, is spending $200 million on track upgrades and buying 5,000 new oil rail cars.  It also said it is training its staff with local authorities for accident prevention and response.

But critics of oil train shipments are not so sure.

"Why on earth should we believe them?" asked Emily Johnston from 350 Seattle, an environmental group. "These are people who took the most volatile oil on earth and put it on the faultiest trains on earth and sent it through downtown Seattle.  And they're doing that every week."

55 million barrels of oil are expected to come through King County this year.

The comprehensive safety plan for Washington state is expected to be finalized by March 2015.