Last month, lawmakers in Washington and Oregon introduced legislation that would further regulate the transportation of crude oil through the Pacific Northwest. House Bill 1611 and companion Senate Bill 5462 in Washington, along with Senate Bill 7 in Oregon, would give regulatory bodies’ greater influence over the railroads. These attempts at economic regulation echo efforts like those by the Spokane City Council, who last year attempted to levy a tax on oil trains traveling through the town.
What’s lost in this debate is the fact that rail has been — and continues to be — the safest way to transport oil. Less than 1% of train derailments involve crude oil, and in 2015 the freight rail train derailment rate nationwide reached an all-time low. Furthermore, the railroads have invested over $630 billion in safety improvements over the past thirty years and the results are showing – 99.99% of all crude oil carrying rail cars arrive at their destinations safely.
And the railroads continue their efforts to enhance rail transportation. Just last month, BNSF announced they will invest $3.4 billion in rail improvements this year — $175 million will go to projects in Washington alone. Just this past December, John Lovenburg, vice president of environment for BNSF Railway, outlined the steps the railway has taken to improve safety in Washington in a piece he penned for the Puget Sound Business Journal. Among the improvements: BNSF trained more than 900 first responders in Washington state in 2015, a significant example of the railway’s unwavering commitment to safety.
Our country will continue to depend on oil for the foreseeable future, and the railroads have taken the initiative to make sure that it is transported safely. They are community partners, providing a necessary service and doing so in the safest way possible. Pacific Northwest legislators can do more good for their constituents by viewing the railroads as allies rather than antagonists, working together to improve safety for everyone.