Cantwell Joins Tri-Cities Leaders, Fire Chiefs to Address Oil Train Risks

PASCO – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Tri-Cities fire chiefs and city leaders to call for stronger safety standards for trains hauling flammable crude oil and to highlight challenges that first responders face when fighting fires caused by tank car derailments. 

Pasco is one of several cities in Washington state along the route for trains hauling Bakken crude to refineries along the coast. Up to 18 oil trains travel through downtown Pasco every week.

“We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our communities and give first responders the tools they need,” Cantwell said. “This legislation will help protect regions like the Tri-Cities from the types of fiery derailments we’ve seen in places like North Dakota, Illinois, and West Virginia.”

Cantwell joined Mayor Matt Watkins and Fire Chief Bob Gear of Pasco, as well as Mayor Steve Young and Fire Chief Vince Beasley of Kennewick, to discuss the legislation at the Franklin County Emergency Operations Center.

“We need to reduce the severity of the derailments -- to do that we need to reduce the volatility of the product,” Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear said. “Prevention is the first and most important tactic we can employ to prevent disasters with these oil trains.”

“I thank Senator Cantwell for taking on this issue,” Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said. “These tank cars contain gases that are much quicker to explode and react. It’s very important to the City of Kennewick that our citizens be protected. We have to be prepared for these trains coming through.”

Cantwell introduced the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act of 2015 with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The legislation would authorize $40 million for first responder training programs and establish grants for local communities to update emergency response plans. The legislation would set new regulations to mitigate the volatility of gases in crude oil shipped via tank car and immediately halt the use of older-model tank cars that have been shown to be at high risk for puncturing and catching fire in derailments.

The Crude-By-Rail Safety Act addresses emergency response to oil train accidents by providing:

  • Resources for first responders: Authorizes $40 million for first responder training programs, establishes grants for local communities to update emergency response plans, and improves emergency notification procedures.
  • Requirements for rail carriers: Requires railroads to develop comprehensive emergency response plans adequate to respond to large accidents involving fire or explosions.
  • Increased Transparency: Requires railroads shipping volatile crude to provide information on crude-by-rail shipments to State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees along hazmat rail routes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates an average of 10 derailments annually over the next 20 years as crude-by-rail shipments grow, costing $4 billion.