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Spokane Valley officials seek briefing on rail shipments

Spokane Valley city leaders want to know more about the growing number of rail shipments carrying Great Plains oil through the Inland Northwest.

“I think it would be good information to have,” City Councilman Bill Bates said this week. “Cities around us are taking a position.”

Federal regulators are contemplating new safeguards on oil trains following a string of fiery accidents in the past year. In Olympia, state lawmakers are calling for tougher regulations on rail traffic moving through Washington state and the city of Spokane last week called for greater scrutiny of safety issues surrounding oil trains.

Bates said Tuesday that he’s not advocating, at this point, that the city of Spokane Valley take a position on oil trains but wants more information for the council and the community in general as the issue gets more attention nationally.

City Manager Mike Jackson said Spokane Valley Fire officials are planning an update in March, adding that further briefings could be arranged as well.

Jackson said the city, as well as regional transporation officials, are looking for ways to improve rail crossings throughout the Spokane Valley and “separate the rail from traffic.” The city is pushing for a bridge at Barker Road, for example, while the Spokane Regional Transporation Commission is looking at other crossings too.

As many as 22 full and empty oil trains a day could soon traverse Northwest railways, according to a recent market analysis by Sightline Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Seattle. That’s based on 100-car trains with each car holding 700 barrels of crude.

The greater Spokane area is a chokepoint for rail traffic moving from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to shipping terminals and refineries on the West Coast.

New studies also indicate that Bakken shale oil is more flammable than other crude oil.

The Upper Columbia River chapter of the Sierra Club has called for a moratorium on oil shipments through Spokane, arguing that drilling has grown faster than the needed infrastructure.



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