Politics & Government

Oil-by-rail shipments in Wash. fell a bit in second week of reporting by BNSF railroad

BNSF Railways filed a second report on oil-by-rail shipments in Washington, which are required by a federal Department of Transportation order. The number of trains hauling at least 1 million gallons during the week of June 5-11 was lower than for the preceding week – both for busy routes through Adams and Klickitat counties in Eastern Washington and for routes through Thurston and Pierce counties.

The state Military Department made the new report public this week. The report does not explain the drop off and BNSF says in its letter to the state that the information should be treated as confidential.

The second BNSF report shows 11 trains passed through both Thurston and Pierce counties during the week beginning June 5. That is compared to 14 through Thurston and 15 through Pierce during the week of May 29 to June 4, according to the railroad’s first report.

We reported late last month that first-responder agencies are just starting to take stock of the new data.

Altogether four rail operations filed reports in early June. These were made publicly available on the Military Department’s web site late in the month after the railroads decided not to challenge the Military Department’s release of the information to the public. BNSF filed a second report because oil volumes were at least 25 percent different than the previous report on file depicted.

Tacoma Rail, which is feeding three weekly trains of typically 100 tank cars of crude to US Oil’s refinery on the Tacoma Tideflats, filed a single report. That indicates no significant change in volumes.

Union Pacific filed no reports, because its oil shipments are less than 1 million gallons per train, or less than about 35 tankers.

The highest volumes were along the corridor between Spokane and Vancouver – including Klickitat County along the Columbia River which had 19 trains the first week and 13 the second.

Activist group ForestEthics based in San Francisco has created an interactive blast zone map showing areas it calculates as at risk areas along rail corridors across the country.

Update: BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace explained the dip in oil traffic in an email Wednesday. “Freight rail traffic is fairly dynamic and can change based on market demands and customers' needs. Numerous factors can play into this,” Wallace wrote.