Local school boards in northwest Washington concerned about flammable oil trains passing by classrooms

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- There is growing concern at local school districts about the dangers of oil trains.  The train cars are loaded with highly flammable Bakken crude and rumble right by playgrounds and classrooms every day.

Train tracks run through the heart of downtown Mount Vernon and the local school district just passed a resolution asking lawmakers to double their efforts to make oil trains safer.

The district said if the tanker cars aren’t upgraded quickly, thousands of children could be in danger.

“This poses a new a different kind of risk,” said Mount Vernon School Board Chairman Robert Coffey.

Coffey said his board unanimously approved a resolution that demands more be done to make sure a massive Bakken oil train explosion doesn’t happen in his city.

“A school board’s first responsibility is the safety of our student,” he said. “In that line we need to make sure that trains coming through the community this close to these school are safe trains.”

Nearly 50 people were killed when a Bakkan oil train exploded in Quebec in 2013. Coffey said the blast zone there wreaked havoc for at least 1,000 yards on either side of the track.

Out of the nine schools in his district, four of them are within that threshold. Coffey said thousands of children’s lives could be at risk.

“In any given elementary school there are typically more than 600 students. The high schools in the distance has 1,700 roughly students,” he said.

The Mount Vernon School District isn’t alone. It joins at least two other Washington school boards that passed similar resolutions – Washougal and, most recently, Marysville.

Tom Albright, Marysville school board president, released a statement that reads in part: “The board believes that the transportation of crude oil using current rail technology poses a threat to the health, safety and welfare of its students, staff and community.”

Coffey said now is the time to demand high safety standards in case an explosion like the one that happened in Quebec happens in Skagit County.

“We don’t want the possibility of that happening of our kids,” said Coffey.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is pushing new legislation to replace older tanker with new models that have increased safety features.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe said it’s spent millions of dollars on rail upgrades and has trained thousands of first-responders statewide to be at the ready in case tragedy strikes.

On May 14, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that attempts to improve the safety of oil transportation.

The new law requires railroads hauling crude oil to show their ability to pay for oil spill cleanup and requires facilities that receive oil by trains to provide weekly notice of the type and volume of oil shipped.

Under the new law, more information will be made public on a quarterly basis.