Activists record number of oil trains moving through Snohomish County

EVERETT -- Volunteers in Snohomish County are trying to persuade government leaders to take a stand against potentially dangerous oil trains.

When an oil train derailed and exploded in a Québec town last year, it killed dozens of people. In North Dakota, a massive fireball lit up the sky when two trains collided.

“There have been nine incidents in the last year of oil train derailments and explosions in North America,” activist Dean Smith said Tuesday. “At the rate oil train traffic is increasing, I think it’s a concern for Everett.”

That’s why Smith organized a weeklong train count in Everett. Thirty volunteers sat near the tracks on either side of the city, and counted how many oil trains went by.

“We had been led to expect that we might be seeing nine a week,” he said.

But there were 16, and that was with volunteers only manning the tracks 50 percent of the time.  On Tuesday night, Smith shared his findings at a public meeting. Darrel McLaughlin attended, because he’s concerned about what could happen if there was an accident in Washington.

“I’d rather see coal being transported than an explosive material that’s in a rail car that’s as old as I am,” he said.

The spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which operates the tracks in Washington, said he couldn’t comment on the number of oil trains running through Everett for security reasons. But he did say safety is the company’s primary concern.

“We are working with federal regulators and the shippers,” said Gus Melonas.  “We are taking it very seriously, and there are going to be changes made in the marketplace overall.”

That’s not enough for Smith, who would like to see a moratorium on oil trains until they are made safer.

He has sent a report of his findings to officials with the city of Everett. He said he’d like them to take up the issue and come up with an evacuation plan, in case there ever is a derailment here in town. But he said he hasn't gotten a response from them yet.