Oil Train Safety

Not long ago a train passing through our city ran off the tracks underneath the Magnolia Bridge, derailing three of its 100 tank cars carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in Anacortes, WA. We are thankful that no oil spilled or ignited, considering Bakken is highly flammable and easily ignited at normal temperatures by heat, static discharges, sparks, vapors, or flames.

This oil train derailment was not an isolated incident. Several North American incidents involving crude oil transported by rail have resulted in death, injury, and substantial damage to property and the environment in recent years.

Oil Trains Timeline Infographic

These incidents highlight the risks of catastrophe here in our city, which is why Council is invested in improving federal regulations.

Council Action

Council has taken several steps to urge federal regulators to change oil train transport policy, considering BNSF Railway reports moving 8-16 oil trains per week through Seattle, all containing 1,000,000 or more gallons of Bakken crude.

  • One day before the Seattle derailment, the Seattle City Council signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, urging an emergency end to shipping Bakken crude oil in older model tank train cars (DOT-111), which are considered far less safe for shipping flammable materials than newer cars built specifically for carrying crude. Seattle City Council is the first city government nationwide to call for immediate end to oil train transport near neighborhoods.
  • Councilmember Mike O'Brien and Mayor Ed Murray co-sponsored oil train Resolution 31504, which was adopted unanimously by City Council. The resolution urged U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to aggressively phase out older model tank cars used to move flammable liquids that are not retrofitted to meet new federal requirements. Yet, after seeing the impacts of the derailment in Lynchburg, VA, the Council has since called for an immediate end to the use of legacy DOT-111 train cars.
  • Council was briefed by the City's Office of Emergency Management and Fire Department on their incident response plans in the case of an oil train related incident in Seattle. With the railway physically running along Puget Sound, through residential neighborhoods, underneath Downtown in a 100-year old tunnel, and alongside our very popular professional sports venues, it is critical for both the safety of our people and our environment that Seattle is adequately prepared for such an incident.

Next Steps

Please let Councilmember O'Brien know if you are interested in staying informed of any actions the City takes on oil trains by emailing him at mike.obrien@seattle.gov.

Oil Train Derailment In-The-News