Amtrak derailment puts Spokane oil trains back in spotlight


SPOKANE, Wash. -Train disasters can impact you even if you never set foot on a train. Some believe that may be especially true in Spokane, where the state reports every week, railroads ship more than a million barrels of crude oil across Washington. The majority of it passes through Spokane.

KHQ learned passenger trains only typically run through Spokane once a day, mainly in the overnight hours. What passes through more, on average of two or even three times a day, are trains carrying oil.

"These derailments happen all the time, most are minor," said Safer Spokane Chairman, Jim Lee. "Every once in a while, there is one that is catastrophic."

Lee said what happened on the west side of our state Monday morning certainly falls into that category.

"The odds are small, but like I said, It only takes one," he said.

That's why Lee said he pushed for change in Spokane through proposition two. It failed last month.

"The aim of (proposition two) was to require oil companies to reduce the flammability of the Bakken crude oil before it ships through Spokane instead of when it hits the coast," he said. "We have 100 to 130 cars (containing) a material, more flammable than gasoline, going through Spokane two to three times a day."

BNSF officials said they spent $175 million in Washington alone this year to maintain their tracks, cover upgrades, and invest in new technologies to keep everything safe. They told KHQ they inspect their tracks at a minimum, four times a week. They said their busiest main lines, including here in Spokane, may be inspected daily.

Lee said the proposed safety improvements will be taken to the state legislature in coming months.

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