• Courtesy of Josh Fogt
  • The derailed train, this morning in Interbay.

Gus Melonas, spokesperson for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, called earlier this afternoon to offer more details on this morning's oil train derailment under the Magnolia Bridge.

The train was carrying "100 loaded tank cars of Bakken oil destined for Anacortes," Melonas said. It was getting ready to head onward toward the northern part of the Washington when the second of two locomotives pulling the train derailed. Behind that locomotive was a "buffer car" loaded with sand. That derailed, too. So did the train's first three oil cars, the first of which ended up listing at a 45-degree angle. (The other two tilted less precipitously.)

No oil spilled, but one of the oil cars suffered damage and will have to be hauled away after its contents are transferred to another car. The other two oil cars will head onward with their Bakken cargo after inspections.

BNSF officials are investigating the derailment, which occurred when the train was traveling at less than 5 miles an hour, but they don't yet know the cause.

Melonas said the cars on this train are all 1232s—a newer, safer variety of oil car. "The latest industry standard," Melonas said, "with the upgraded safety precautions, with thicker heat shields at both ends of the cars, rollover protections for the valves, and thicker steel. The cars performed as designed."

This is "without a doubt" the first derailment since Bakken oil started being shipped through Washington State more regularly over the past two years, Melonas said. "We're confident that we have a safe operation."

Others are not so certain, including Mayor Ed Murray, who said in a statement this afternoon:

This is an important public safety issue facing Seattle and I will continue to advocate for less oil and coal coming through our city.

State Representative Reuven Carlyle, of Seattle, used the incident to draw attention to a new study on the costs and benefits of coal trains running through the city:

The sheer irony of today’s oil train derailment under the Magnolia Bridge—in the heart of Seattle— at the very moment a major study is being released blocks away outlining the severe economic, transportation and infrastructure costs to the life of our state is stunning.

I doubt Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert could dream up a more jolting juxtaposition than today’s events.

The Puget Sound Regional Council released an independent, rigorous, detailed study today analyzing the impacts of the proposed coal exports. If these sweeping proposals are enacted over the objections of millions of our citizens, Washington State is poised to become the number one exporter of coal and oil in the nation. This valuable data directly shows that the economic benefits of the proposals are pennies on the dollar compared to the shockingly expensive costs. The modest, short term benefits are highly concentrated in rural areas of Whatcom County while the costs are trapped in virtually every community from Spokane to the Columbia River to Clark County up through the I-5 Corridor of Thurston, Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

And King County Executive Dow Constantine added this warning:

Thankfully no fire resulted from the derailment of oil train tank cars under the Magnolia Bridge. But this incident only shows how little we know about what moves through our communities by rail, and how thin is the margin of safety for the people of King County from hazards of shipping millions of gallons of highly flammable crude oil that can be easily ignited by heat or an electric spark.

Local and tribal governments have front-line roles in emergency response and transportation. That is why I convened an Alliance last week of elected leaders from across the Northwest and British Columbia to shine a light on the true costs and impact of coal and oil trains on our communities, and bring our voices together for a safer energy future.

We've already seen an unprecedented groundswell of opposition to coal export, and the traffic, health, and environmental impacts of up to 18, mile-and-a-half long coal trains coming through the heart of our communities. As we've seen today, we also face growing threats from oil trains—an Exxon Valdez on rails—which carry the potential for devastating explosions and spills. We've seen oil train disasters across the U.S. and Canada that have wiped out entire communities. Outdated tank cars must be taken out of service.