Video: The Northwest’s “Bomb Trains”

VICE News takes an in-depth look at oil trains running through Cascadia.
This post is 44 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails

I’m excited to share this just-released VICE News video piece about the threats of oil trains in the Pacific Northwest: “The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail: Bomb Trains.”

Spencer Chumbley and Nilo Tabrizy put together a top-notch, comprehensive look at how this dangerous “pipeline on wheels” is already affecting our region, interviewing a broad range of stakeholders and experts, including: Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky of Columbia Riverkeeper; Kenny Stuart, president of the Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Local 27; Barry Cain, president of the Oregon real estate firm Gramor Development; Rob Davis of The Oregonian; and yours truly.

It’s a great watch for anyone, whether you’re new to the issue or already familiar with it. And if you have neighbors or friends who don’t know much about oil trains, please share this video with them. It’s a clear introduction to a development that threatens local communities and economies.

Bonus: For more on how these massive new rail shipments are impacting our local economy, see this excellent Seattle Times piece from the weekend on coal and oil trains crowding out grain shipments to our ports.

Extra bonus: VICE is also publishing an editorial I wrote, Warren Buffett Really Likes Oil Trains — Despite the Explosions. Here’s a taste:

Buffett likes to maintain an avuncular and public-spirited image, but the railroad industry fights bitterly against better safety standards and often cloaks itself with intermediaries. In the regulatory arena, Berkshire-owned firms are represented by active membership in an alphabet soup of trade associations and industry lobbying groups…

Last week, federal regulators proposed new rules that were widely heralded by the media as a victory for public safety. But in reality, the oil-by-rail industry got most of what it wanted.

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  1. Robert Jackson says:

    How do I show your video?
    Please email a reply.

    • portrait Rich Feldman says:

      Note that Kenny Stuart, the Seattle Firefighter featured in the VICE video, gives a ride to the host in his Nissan LEAF all-electric vehicle.

  2. richard pauli says:

    Great report, thanks goes out to you and to VICE. Great journalism.

    One more thought about the “what if” scenario: of course a stadium filled with 60,000 people is a risk… Also is the sleeping community of 100,000 people that live within a quarter mile of the tracks. What happens at night when everyone is sleeping? Do we rely on the sound of sirens? The proposed state legislation forbids revealing how many rail cars are in transit, or how often they run, and only require reporting the content after the trains have passed through. Reports required 4 times per year. Not very smart.

    How are we supposed to know the risks? These trains can be two miles long – and 18 per day can come through town. Wow, that is a lot of time. If there is an earthquake, how soon can a long train be stopped?

    California taxes transit oil trains… why doesn’t Washington State? The taxes we fail to collect from out of state commerce, must instead be derived from internal taxes… why is that? Seems short sighted.

  3. richard pauli says:

    I am a Seattle resident – and for 30 years have lived and worked within a half-mile of the active train tracks running through Seattle.

    HOUSE BILL 2347 is the Safe Transportation of Oil bill – it fails to address so many risks (seems to be about water transit, not much train risk).

    Scientist are certain that our region will have severe earthquakes in the near to mid future, yet this fact is not addressed. For instance, how soon can a 2 mile train be brought to a complete stop? i.e. if a bridge fall (our region has many falling bridges) how soon can a train be stopped before any bridge? How strong a temblor does it take to derail a parked train?

    (I left this comment with the Washington State Legislature Citizens can only leave brief comments.)

    When we get a severe earthquake, are these trains sufficiently robust to stay intact after derailing?

    With 18 trains per day, this means that there will always be a few loaded trains somewhere within a high population earthquake zone. How is this real risk addressed?

    Finally, the legislature wants to address safety, but not revenue. California taxes transit trains, I would think it a missed opportunity not to tax oil that transits here. The transit oil profits will not really go to Washington State citizens. This means the failure to tax externally must be made up for with increases in state taxes to citizens.

    So tax revenue becomes a safety issue — because I would think citizens would think more kindly about letting dangerous cargo move on our train tracks if they knew each car generated significant tax revenue. A freeloading, dangerous train would be more targeted for blocking demonstrations. Did the legislature not think about that?

  4. Anita Grace says:

    Is this an unbiased account ?

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