How to prevent fossil fuel train derailments
The following is a prepared statement to the Port of Vancouver Commissioners on June 14, 2016.
I’m here to address three people as you approach a decision. I do so as the current local incident commander on what for my community is still an active disaster caused by a unit train of crude oil in my jurisdiction.
I’m also the Chief of a Fire District including the City of Mosier and the surrounding 22 square miles. I’m here representing my constituents as their fire prevention officer—how can I prevent a next time.
In those two capacities, I am here to give you my professional advice and hopefully a moment of clarity.
One feature of the Mosier derailment that is easy to overlook is that much of the trauma was caused not by the fire or the wreckage or the disruption, but by the 80 or so tank cars not on fire and still on the tracks right through the heart of our town until well after the fire was out. Our horror at seeing what many of us understand as bomb material is your canary in the coal mine. We react instinctively to something which you need to put into policy: that volume of hazard has no business in our communities and potentially exposed to our irreplaceable Mother Columbia.
The only way to prevent the next fossil fuel unit train derailment is to stop running them.
I say this with some authority. Not as a rail safety expert, but as the risk management professional most closely affected by, and fairly familiar with the details of one specific incident.
Here’s the proof.
The last time Union Pacific had a failure of the type which caused the Mosier derailment was sixteen years ago.
As I see it, the safety record with respect to this fault is 2, the number of incidents, divided by whatever denominator you want to use—rail miles, number of trains, number of individual axles across each fastener assembly throughout the Union Pacific network over sixteen years. That’s a 99-point-lotta nines percent safety record with respect to this fault, and yet we still had a derailment.
Senator Wyden told me he thinks our goal should be improving the safety of these trains. My response, and my professional opinion, is that they cannot be made safe enough to justify the blip of profit they generate somewhere, that this is about the cargo and the mode being unsafe, and there will be a next time if fossil fuel unit trains continue to run.
Months or years from now, if the meteor strikes again, even without a release, I am going to look back in time and wag a finger at anyone who makes what I am telling you is the wrong choice for your constituents and your neighbors.
Don’t extend the lease.