A dead canary warning

Apr 17, 2014


Recent landslides disrupting travel plans of Sounder rail passengers may have obscured an ominous warning of more serious problems down the track.

Long oil trains in North Dakota have so congested BNSF tracks with delays and cancellations that Amtrak was forced to reschedule its popular Empire Builder.

The inconvenience of arriving three extra hours early at the Edmonds Station should be considered an early warning similar to the death of a canary in a coal mine.

Newspapers in Montana’s tourist cities such as Kalispell and Missoula registered alarm at the disruptions threatening the travel plans of last year’s 536,400 Empire Builder’s riders.

Despite significant BNSF improvements, journalists foresee an ominous future.

Even Big Coal has complained of delayed schedules. The irony is that delays and disruptions of Washington’s traffic increasingly will be compounded by Big Coal’s plans to crowd the rails with mile-long coal trains headed for proposed terminals such as Cherry Point.

It is time to recognize the risks such traffic congestion entails.

For example, California newspapers have covered their March 19 Senate hearings that focused on oil train safety issues.

The Benicia Independent published concern about the recent 85-fold increase of oil trains on California rails.

The hearings proactively sought mitigation of anticipated derailments and explosions of trains carrying volatile Bakken oil to local refineries. Washington State would be wise to become equally proactive.

Presently, only three full trainloads of Bakken oil pass through Edmonds on route to the Ferndale refinery and its export facility.

Fortunately, time remains to assess the inevitable costs that would be imposed upon our city and citizens’ health by many additional mile-plus-long coal trains traveling to the proposed location of a coal export facility at Cherry Point.

The potential disruption of access to the Edmonds’ Port, state ferry dock and beach development is obvious.

However, the interconnected nature of our modern economy requires a proper statewide assessment of less evident costly impacts upon our quality of life.

Citizen awareness so vital to enlisting the attention of elected government officials is a critical necessity.

The expiring canary tweet of the disrupted Empire Builder schedule may seem to be an insignificant alarm.

However, its plaint warning is registered in our own Edmonds’ coal mine station.

Walter M. Yeager


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