Sunday, May 3, 2015

Washington Fire Chiefs still seek specifics from BNSF

Train Derailment File

April 30, 2014: firefighters and rescue personnel work along the tracks where CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River in Lynchburg.

Washington Fire Chiefs seek BNSF info for disaster planning

By Samantha Wohlfeil    The Bellingham Herald     May 3, 2015 

Following a series of fiery crude oil train derailments in Canada and the U.S., emergency planners in Washington state went to work updating a regional hazmat plan.

“As trains started exploding all over the U.S., it caught our attention,” said Wayne Senter, executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs, a nonprofit association. “So we dusted off our regional hazmat plan and pushed it forward. It needs to be refreshed, it needs to be updated.”

But the planners quickly hit a wall when trying to find out specific information about what and how much is being shipped by rail. After struggling with fact-finding, the chiefs sent a letter to BNSF Railway asking for the information they needed for their plan, which was last updated in 2006. Washington state got its first crude-by-rail shipment in 2012.

They asked for information in four specific areas:

•  The railroad’s worst-case scenarios for a crude oil train derailment in urban and sensitive environmental areas.
•  Evidence of how much catastrophic insurance coverage the railroad has.
•  Copies of the railroad’s comprehensive emergency response plans.
•  Analyses of how they determine the safest routes for carrying hazardous materials such as crude oil, ethanol, chlorine and ammonia.

“Normally we would be able to assess the hazard through right-to-know and other public documents; however, your industry has sought and gained exemptions to these sunshine laws,” the March 6 letter to BNSF states. “This exemption does not mean that your industry is exempt from taking reasonable steps to ensure catastrophic incidents do not occur.”

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In response, BNSF employees met with Senter and a handful of others involved in emergency management and firefighting on Thursday afternoon, April 30, at the fire chiefs office in Olympia.

The chiefs got answers to some of their questions, but not everything.

"I think both sides learned a little bit about the other group’s point of view,” Senter said Thursday afternoon.....

...In the two hours the parties met, there wasn’t enough time to get into detail, Senter said, but they did start discussions on the four points of the letter, including the specifics of a worst-case scenario.

“They shared what that was from their point of view,” Senter said....   more here

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