Local View: BNSF Railway committed to safely moving oil

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For more than a century, BNSF Railway has moved products to and from Washington, helping to fuel the state’s economy. No matter what we carry, agriculture, crude oil or airplane fuselages, we are absolutely committed to moving it as safely as possible.

Recent derailments involving the legacy DOT-111 tank cars have understandably raised questions in many communities about the safety of oil trains. We understand those concerns and believe they deserve answers. This is why BNSF strongly supports the new voluntary rail operating safety practices that go above and beyond federal regulatory requirements to further reduce risk in the movement of crude oil by rail. These practices include lower speeds for crude oil trains, increased track inspections on crude routes, additional trackside detectors for equipment defects, and local emergency training and tuition assistance beyond our existing training.

BNSF and the industry have been calling for the adoption of stronger federal tank car standards since 2011. To further support that effort, BNSF has taken the unusual step of requesting that major railcar manufacturers submit bids to construct 5,000 next-generation tank cars that will be even safer than the stronger new tank cars in service. We do not currently own any of the tank cars that move crude oil on our network, but we believe this will help accelerate the transition to a new, safer tank car even as the Department of Transportation, railroads and shippers continue to engage in the formal rulemaking process.

Infrastructure investment

These measures are an important part of our long-term focus on preventing accidents in the first place. We do this through investing in our infrastructure to ensure the integrity and reliability of our network, a culture of safety with our employees, and a robust track and equipment inspection program that exceeds federal standards. In fact, this year we will invest $5 billion to support the maintenance and expansion of our own infrastructure. About $900 million will be spent across the Northern tier, which spans from Chicago to Washington.

It is also imperative that we are ready to respond if an incident were to occur. This is why we have an internal team of more than 200 dedicated emergency responders, as well as an extensive network of on-call professional response contractors. We also offer free hazmat response training for 3,000 to 4,000 local emergency responders in communities across our network each year. In 2013, we participated in 20 training sessions for responders in Oregon and Washington, training more than 900 people. We have several training events already planned this year in Washington.

Also, the BNSF hazmat team has participated as instructors at the Oregon Hazardous Materials Response Teams conferences and the Washington State Fire Chiefs Hazmat conferences. We instruct attendees on how to safely and properly respond to and prepare for hazmat emergencies, and we also provide guidance in how to receive information from the railroad.

BNSF was the first railroad in the industry to deploy a fleet of industrial firefighting foam trailers on hazmat routes around its network. We freely make these trailers available to other railroads and communities. In the event of an incident that requires these trailers, we mobilize the trailers to the location of an incident and deploy contract industrial firefighters to operate the equipment. BNSF has specialized equipment and hazmat responders staged across our network, which includes several locations in Washington such as Everett, Seattle, Longview, Wishram, Pasco and Spokane.

As we always do, we will continue to improve upon our operating practices to further make our railroad safer. No matter what we carry, there is absolutely nothing more important than doing it safely. This is the guidepost for myself and the 41,000 other BNSF employees who proudly live, work and play in the communities along our rail line.


Daryl Ness is the general manager of BNSF Railway’s Northwest Division.