The aftermath of an oil train derailment in Oregon earlier this month continues to resonate as the safety of moving energy by rail is front and center in the national spotlight. Some are exploiting this unfortunate accident and lobbing for the elimination of transporting crude oil by train in the Pacific Northwest. This would be a short-sighted decision with far-reaching and lasting ramifications for communities throughout the region, particularly in Washington.
Washington is a gateway for international commerce. The state’s deep water ports and favorable geographical positioning to Asia give it a significant advantage in exports and imports. Washington’s ports handle close to seven percent of U.S. exports and roughly six percent of its imports. One way we maintain this legacy of trade is through decisions that will grow and improve transportation infrastructure, rather than relying on knee jerk reactions based upon unavoidable human error.
A Spokesman Review columnist recently described the inevitable risk that comes with economically competitive industrialized activity. In her piece, Sue Lani Madsen describes her experience as a volunteer firefighter and notes with regards to rail safety that “risk can be mitigated but not eliminated,’ adding “decisions about balancing risk have to be made on non-emotional grounds.”
She closes her column by stating, “When we let ourselves be distracted by the latest drama, we lose sight of the larger picture. Freight has to move for society to function.”
This is undoubtedly true as the importance of rail to Washington trade – an industry that supports 1 in 4 jobs – cannot be overstated. Our transportation infrastructure is the lifeblood of hundreds of industries including agriculture and manufacturing. Because of rail, much-needed supplies will find their way to market. As has always been the case, the goal of transporting these products in the safest and most efficient manner possible is of top interest.
Instead of crude-by-rail opponents amplifying catastrophic events to make their case, we must weigh the risks versus the benefits of rail. Doing so will underscore the reality that because of rail transportation, we will continue to maintain the economic viability of Washington and the Pacific Northwest.