What was the cause of the oil-train wreck and why are public officials not being transparent and honest with the citizens of Whatcom County? Why, seven days after the accident, are roads still closed all around the site? Why, seven days after the derailment, is there no public explanation of the cause?
To read the newspaper reports, the minor derailment of seven oil tank cars and the two fires that were quickly extinguished seems like a lucky break. Especially with no injuries, no environmental damage to speak of, and no property damage. County emergency teams responded quickly as trained, we are told, and all is well. The 108-car train from South Dakota carrying highly explosive Bakken crude oil, bound for the Philips 66 oil refinery at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, was one of two trains that usually pass through Bellingham and our county every day of the year.
But even today, a week after the accident, the sheriff, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad, and the newspapers tell us that the cause is still under investigation. But is this true? Or, do they know the cause and are withholding it from us? A week is a long time to not know what caused a train wreck. Are some basic facts being withheld? I have tried to learn more but responses have been slow.
The photo at the top of this article shows an item that does not fit: The Seattle Times photo shows eight - not seven - derailed cars. And one car looks more like a locomotive than an oil tank car, with orange paint. We need an explanation. Why does BNSF and the news media keep saying seven cars when the photo clearly shows eight? And what is that eighth car if it’s not a tank car?
Today I learned reliably that 10 cars were derailed, five caught fire and three others leaked oil. These are larger numbers than the Bellingham Herald and Seattle Times have reported. What is the problem with acknowledging how many cars derailed? Why did first reports say only five derailed? BNSF and our county sheriff had to know from the first day how many derailed.
A missing fact: what section of the 108-car train derailed? Was it seven or eight of the last 10 or 11 cars - at the very end of the train? If not, what section was it? This train was on a straight track. A curve could have caused cars in the middle of the train to derail, but there was no curve, so no undue side pressure to distort the rails. There is no mention of any normal things that cause a long freight to derail. So, was the derailment near the front, middle, or rear of the train? Nary a mention - and that is cause for concern.
Was there a pusher engine involved? If so, was it involved in or did it cause the wreck? Newspapers have only reported oil cars derailing. Was the train slowing down at the time of the accident and did that have something to do with the accident?
Was there a rail switch under the train? Was there a portion of siding nearby? Was there construction in progress near the rails where the derailment occurred? Was it something under the control of BNSF that caused the wreck? If there is a switch at that spot, did it mysteriously engage and send the last cars off the rails? What about that odd looking car or locomotive? Did it play any part in the derailment?
The public has been allowed to speculate all week about possible sabotage. There has been talk of “shunts,” which we read about several weeks ago. A shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable a variety of safety features. A month ago, authorities arrested two people for setting shunts that have caused signals to malfunction. If the cause is known, and it is not sabotage, then this is pernicious behavior on the part of BNSF and our sheriff department to allow the public to suspect citizens of wrongdoing when it is an error on the part of the railroad. They allow us to speculate about terrorism - while they know the answers.
These are some questions. It is taking an unusually long time for this modest wreck site to be cleared - over a week - and railroad crews do not get days off when a train wreck needs to be cleared. One could speculate it is purposely being done slowly. I tried to get a closer look at the site yesterday but road blocks do not allow one near it.
What I have written may be off target. But this situation just does not pass the smell test. We have a right to know the truth of this train wreck. This article is, in one sense, a starting point. A note to the authorities and BNSF that we think the full story is intentionally being withheld from the public. Why? I hope the Seattle Times delves deeper into this wreck. NWCitizen simply does not have the resources to pursue this as a professional media organization can.
Sheriff Elfo, what is the full story here? What are you withholding from the citizens of Whatcom County?