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April 11, 2014 at 6:30 AM

U.S. Sen. Murray wants answers about oil-train safety

Corrected version

Shipping crude oil by rail has resulted in horrific accidents that claimed lives and devastated communities. Concerns about the safety of crude oil shipments are escalating  along with the predicted number of trains headed across Washington.

A 2013oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)

A 2013 oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D.
(AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)

The Washington State Legislature had a chance to help protect Washington residents, and let local communities prepare for the worst. Unfortunately, HB 2347, which would have provided basic information to public-safety agencies, withered and died in the Majority Coalition Caucus-controlled Senate.

The vulnerability and exposure of the public is only going to grow, and state senators this past session shuffled their feet and looked out the window. That sad history made the news of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C. all the more important.

Seattle Times Washington Bureau reporter Kyung M. Song explained that Murray presided over the first congressional hearing focused solely on the safety of transporting crude oil by rail.

One of the witnesses before Murray’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation was Barb Graff, director of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management. Song reported Graff laid out disturbing details about the expected growth of daily shipments through the city, the flammable nature of the cargo, and the potential hazards along the route.

As I wrote in a Jan. 16 column about oil shipments, lawmakers in the other Washington have been pushing for answers from the federal bureaucracy. New tank car standards were adopted in 2011, but the demand for rail containers raises questions about the ability to handle the demand.

Getting answers as Murray and her colleagues learned on Wednesday can be a frustrating experience.

The hazards are clearly known. After the state Senate in Olympia ducked its duties, it is reassuring to hear the topic and questions raised on Capitol Hill.

Information in this article, originally published April 11, 2014, was corrected April 11, 2014. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Barb Graff’s name.

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