BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Two women from Bellingham were arrested Saturday on charges of a terrorist attack on a railroad facility by allegedly placing a "shunt" on the tracks.
A "shunt" disrupts the low-level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features. It's comprised of magnets and wires that are stretched between the tracks and they disrupt the systems that indicate that a train is on the tracks.
On Nov. 28, police with BNSF saw two people kneeling on the tracks near a crossing in Bellingham via surveillance video. The two people were later identified as the two women arrested. Police said a shunt was found on the tracks where the two had been seen on surveillance.
Police said the women had a paper bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head, and rubber gloves. The wire was similar to the wire used in the shunting incidents. The shunt that was placed on the tracks would have interfered with the railroad crossing guard at Cliffside Drive in Bellingham, according to BNSF police.
According to the criminal complaint, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of shunts on the BNSF tracks since Jan. 19
“Since January, there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties—causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Moran.
The charge of terrorist attack on a railroad facility is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.