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14 leaking oil cars removed from BNSF train

A train hauling crude oil across Idaho and Washington last month had to have 14 leaking tank cars removed at three different stops before it reached its destination at an Anacortes refinery.

BNSF Railway officials said that less than 25 gallons of oil was spilled from the cars over the three-day period, but the incident remains under investigation by Washington state regulators.

The first leak was discovered about 20 miles east of Spokane at the refueling depot in Hauser. On Jan. 12, train crews spotted oil on the side of a single tank car, which was removed from the 100-car train, said Courtney Wallace, a BNSF spokeswoman.

After traveling through Eastern Washington along the Columbia River, the train reached Vancouver, where seven more cars were determined to be leaking. BNSF employees and federal rail inspectors examined the train again in Auburn, south of Seattle. Another six cars were found to be leaking and taken out of service.

The tank cars had slow oil leaks from the top values, Wallace said. Some of the leaks couldn’t be seen from the ground and weren’t detected until railroad employees climbed up onto the cars. No oil was spotted along the railroad tracks or right-of-way, she said.

The train was carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to a Tesoro refinery, where the remaining cars arrived Jan. 14.

Related: BNSF to expand rail capacity in the Bakken

The cause of the leaks remains under investigation. Jason Lewis, transportation policy advisor for the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, said he expects to release more information later this month.

The leaks occurred in the newer CPC-1232 tank cars, which are designed to higher safety standards than the older DOT-111 cars. They have thicker shells, head shields, rollover protections and more secure fittings on top.

The UTC wasn’t notified of the leaks until Jan. 14, which is a violation of state reporting requirements. Leaks or releases of hazardous materials must be reported to a state or national hotline within 30 minutes, Lewis said.

The leaks come two months after a rail car was found to have leaked more than 1,600 gallons of crude oil somewhere between North Dakota and Western Washington. The oil-stained car, which was missing a valve cap, was discovered in November at BP’s Cherry Point refinery. State and federal officials didn’t learn about that incident until December.

When BNSF reported the recent leaks, railroad officials thought they were in compliance with state requirements, Wallace said. BNSF has since amended its reporting protocols, she said.

Lewis said the recent incident highlights the need for additional state inspectors. Washington’s only rail inspector specializing in hazardous materials was in the Tri-Cities when the leak was reported. He dropped what he was doing to get to Anacortes.

State agencies have asked the Legislature for eight additional rail inspectors specializing in track, hazardous materials, locomotive equipment, signals and other areas. The $1.25 million annual cost would be paid for by the railroads through fee increases.


This article was written by Becky Kramer from The Spokesman-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.