Three recent coal train derailments are bolstering opposition to the planned expansion of coal exports from Pacific Northwest shipping terminals.
Last week, coal trains from BNSF Railway Co., owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., derailed in Texas and eastern Washington state, ground zero for the coal-shipping debate. And also last week in a Chicago suburb, a Union Pacific Corp. coal train derailed and destroyed a bridge, crushing two people driving through an underpass. In all, coal from dozens of rail cars spilled to the ground.
“There have been a lot of concerns about coal trains and the harm they cause, and the derailment is a very visual and immediate example of what’s potentially coming our way,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group.
More than 100 million tons of coal could travel by rail in the states of Washington and Oregon every year if proposed or potential shipping terminals are built (Greenwire, June 29). If that happens, opponents say, expect more derailments.
“We have heavily used rail running right down the side of the Columbia River through dozens of communities,” VandenHeuvel said. “It’s important for our economy to keep those goods moving, and coal trains can threaten to, not only slow down the rail and vehicle traffic, but also can immediately threaten the river and our communities with derailment.”
The Federal Railroad Administration says there were 389 train derailments between January and April this year, compared to more than 500 during the same period last year. There were almost 1,500 derailments in all of 2011.