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BNSF executive: Oil train safety can improve

Eric Florip | The Columbian

As questions continue to swirl about the safety of transporting crude oil by rail, BNSF Railway’s top executive acknowledged Tuesday that the process can be safer, and said his company welcomes the regulatory push toward more modern tank cars.

In an interview with The Columbian, BNSF Executive Chairman Matthew Rose noted railroads like his are required by federal law to haul crude oil and other hazardous materials as part of their “common carrier” obligations. In the case of crude, phasing out older cars could improve safety, Rose said. Many have already been replaced, but plenty remain on U.S. tracks.

“We think that the risk associated with handling crude oil can go down greatly,” he said.

Earlier this year, BNSF announced plans to acquire 5,000 “state-of-the-art” tank cars to add to its own fleet for carrying crude oil. The amount of crude being transported by rail has jumped sharply in recent years, and a series of fiery derailments and explosions have amplified worries over its safety. Fueling the increase — and several of the recent explosions — is crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Related: BNSF ticketed for traffic delays

Two to three oil trains already roll through Clark County and Vancouver daily. A proposed oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver could more than double that. Rose said he supports the proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, which would connect to the BNSF main line that passes through Vancouver.

Increasing volumes of oil and other commodities such as grain have created a “really busy railroad” for BNSF, Rose said. Choke points and other factors have caused delays at times, he added. BNSF is making $5 billion in capital investments this year as part of its ongoing effort to expand capacity, Rose said.

Rose and other BNSF officials stopped at The Columbian as part of a visit to the Northwest this week.

This story will be updated.

 

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