Tacoma Rail says it moves 3 crude oil trains a week

Staff and wire reportsJune 24, 2014 

Tacoma Rail told Washington state it moves about three trains of Bakken crude oil in Pierce County each week, information that federal transportation officials have ordered released to help emergency responders prepare for accidents.

Tacoma Rail, a short-line railroad owned by the city of Tacoma, disclosed the information to the state this month; it said the three trains move only in Pierce County. The trains each consist of 90 to 120 tank cars. A tank car typically carries about 28,000 gallons.

State emergency management officials posted the information online Monday and released it to The Associated Press and McClatchy under the state public records law.

The country’s major railroads have pushed states to keep the crude oil shipment information confidential on the basis of security.

But Stephen Flynn, a transportation security expert at Northeastern University, when asked to review the information released by the state Monday, said nothing about it struck him as security-sensitive.

A map posted on BNSF Railway’s website shows that it supplies two crude-by-rail terminals in Tacoma, Targa Sound and US Oil & Refining Co.

Tacoma Rail, a 100-year-old public entity that provides rail service in Tacoma and Olympia, lists two major railroads, Union Pacific and BNSF, as its partners.

Union Pacific has already notified the state that it does not haul Bakken crude oil to Washington in quantities of more than 1 million gallons. BNSF, however, is the nation’s largest hauler of Bakken crude by rail.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to notify state officials about the volume, frequency and county-by-county routes of trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.

In the meantime, the railroads persuaded some states to sign agreements restricting the information’s release for business and security reasons. But Washington state officials didn’t sign confidentiality agreements submitted by BNSF Railway or Union Pacific Railroad.

Instead, state officials said they would release the information if requested under the state public records law unless the companies sought a court injunction to block the information’s release.

BNSF Railway had until the end of Monday to do so, but company spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said in an email Monday that “BNSF does not intend to file an injunction.”

Wallace said that it’s ultimately a decision for the federal government and the Washington State Emergency Response Commission to determine how such information is controlled or released.

“We think it is very important that those responsible for security and emergency planning have such information to ensure that proper planning and training are in place for public safety, but we also continue to urge discretion in the wider distribution of specific details.”

The Associated Press and Curtis Tate of McClatchy contributed to this report.

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