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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Beggs, Kinnear want BNSF to join push for stricter train safety standards

Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs wants BNSF Railway to put in writing their commitment to beefing up safety of oil and coal trains, after his measure banning them was withdrawn from the ballot last week.

Beggs and City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, the two council members who voted to keep the controversial ban on ballots this November, penned a letter to the railroad company Thursday requesting that BNSF join the full City Council in urging federal and state agencies to support the safety standards outlined in the proposed law.

The letter gives BNSF a deadline of Sept. 1 to agree to partnering with the city. Then Beggs will seek signatures for a citizen-led ballot initiative.

“In the best world, we’d work with the railroad companies to get those safety provisions,” Beggs said. “But I’m pretty confident we can get the 3,000 signatures.”

The ordinance, as it was written, banned trains traveling through downtown that didn’t meet three criteria. Coal trains needed to be covered, to avoid spilling dust on tracks that could lead to derailments, Beggs said. The proposed law also called for oil to be treated to lower the vapor pressure and flash point, addressing the higher volatility of so-called “sweet crude” produced on the Bakken shale in North Dakota.

Beggs and Kinnear want vapor pressures below 8 pounds per square inch. The North Dakota Industrial Commission in April 2015 ordered producers on the Bakken to condition oil for transport below 13.7 psi, less than the 14.7 psi national standard for oil transport set by the American Petroleum Institute. The explosive derailment in Mosier, Oregon, earlier this summer, which prompted an outcry from the Spokane City Council, involved oil being transported at 9.2 psi, according to the Federal Railroad Association.

Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman with BNSF, confirmed this week the company had received the letter from Beggs and Kinnear. She said BNSF was reviewing the proposal and referred to a statement sent to the City Council following Monday’s vote outlining the company’s work on addressing coal dust and track inspection of crude freight routes.

The Spokane City Charter requires a ballot initiative to receive signatures totaling at least 5 percent of the ballots cast in the previous general election before the City Council can put it to voters. Based on 2015 election totals, Beggs and Kinnear would need 2,586 signatures for the measure to appear on the November 2017 ballot.

If initiative supporters garner signatures totaling more than 15 percent of the total ballots cast in 2015, the oil train ban could be decided during a special election at any time of the year. They would need 7,757 signatures to do so, according to the city clerk’s office.