Rail safety is discussed in Washougal

City Council to consider oil train resolution in January

Representatives from Washougal, Camas, Stevenson, Woodland, Longview and Ridgefield recently met with BNSF Railway Company officials to discuss oil train traffic and safety issues.

The Washougal City Council special meeting was held Dec. 9, at Washougal High School.

Longview City Councilman Mike Wallin asked about the occurrences of leakages or spillages on railcars.

Patrick Brady, the BNSF director of hazardous materials, said BNSF has moved about two million hazardous materials shipments in 2014.

“Of those, there have been two derailments that caused two packages to release some of their contents,” he said. “None were in Washington State.”

Of the two million, Brady said fewer than 200 partial releases occurred, not caused by derailments.

“They were caused by a valve or fitting that is loose,” he said. “They typically lose less than five gallons of product.

“Each one of those is required to be reported to the Department of Transportation,” Brady added. “Normally, we find those non-accident caused releases during mechanical inspections, as the car inspector sees, smells or hears the release of a hazardous material and then immediately responds.”

Washougal City Councilman Paul Greenlee said the city has five grade crossings and one grade separated crossing. He asked what the speed limit is for trains traveling through Washougal.

Christopher DeLargy, BNSF terminal manager of the Northwest division, said the maximum speed for freight service trains is 60 mph. The speed limit for trains carrying crude oil is 40 mph, in “high threat urban areas.”

Washougal is part of the Portland High Threat Urban Area, while east of Washougal is not.

The railroad track surface in Washougal is inspected daily, for signs of wear, according to Brady.

He said there are 220 BNSF hazmat responders at 60 locations in the U.S., including Vancouver. They have specialized equipment, such as industrial firefighting foam trailers, available to use, in the event of a train derailment.

There are also emergency breathing air trailers and air monitoring assets.

Greenlee expressed concerns about the city of Washougal’s water source and its location within 100 feet from railroad tracks.

“I don’t care what your emergency response is,” he said. “If you dump a train on top of that and if you’ll excuse my French, we are well and truly screwed. We won’t have water for the city.

“Those types of accidents, although extraordinarily rare and I admit they are extraordinarily rare, are devastating,” Greenlee added.

Camas-Washougal Fire Department Capts. Kevin Bergstrom, Brooks Cooper and Ben Silva spent three days in Pueblo, Colo., in July, to focus on the topic of oil train fire fighting.

BNSF paid for the training, lodging and airfare, an estimated $2,000 per person. The 24 hours of training focussed on hazardous materials and railroad incidents.

Washougal School Board member Karen Rubino asked if crude oil is volatile and whether railcars can explode.

Brady said crude oil is no more flammable than normal gasoline.

“The gasoline in a transport truck that moves down the highway and goes to the gas station, it’s really the same hazard as a crude oil train,” he said. “It’s less volatile than normal gasoline.”

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard said he is concerned about the local impacts of rail traffic, including safety issues if there is a derailment and the potential of vehicle traffic back-ups.

An increase in oil train traffic is expected to occur locally if an oil terminal is built at the Port of Vancouver.

Vancouver Energy, a joint venture of Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company LLC and Savage Companies, will accept and ship crude oil that originates in North America and arrives at the Port of Vancouver by rail. The oil will be temporarily stored in storage tanks, then transferred to double-hulled vessels, shipped to West Coast refineries and converted into transportation fuels for American consumption.

According to documents from Vancouver Energy, Vancouver and Clark County will benefit with approximately 320 full-time jobs during the construction of the oil terminal, in addition to 616 jobs to operate the facility.

Next month, the Washougal City Council is expected to discuss a resolution that could call for mitigation of traffic and safety impacts and intervention in the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council process.