From the Edmonds Mayor: Round two, what’s the scoop — more trains, coal trains and oil trains…..

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A train carrying both oil tanker cars and coal travels along the Edmonds waterfront Friday afternoon. (Photo by Larry Vogel)
A train carrying both oil tanker cars and coal travels along the Edmonds waterfront Friday afternoon. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

In my previous column I said I would let you know how we are working to deal with our long-term problem of increased train traffic in Edmonds. So here goes…

First off, let’s all understand that Burlington Northern-Santa Fe owns a lot of land and right-of-way in Edmonds. They have control of that land and the right-of-way which runs along the coastline in perpetuity (forever). And at some point (they are not clear when), they will build a second track on their right-of-way through our city to accommodate projected growth. Train traffic will increase in Edmonds.

Mayor Dave Earling
Mayor Dave Earling

That projected growth comes from a variety of influences. Like it or not, we are increasingly part of a growing global economy. Add to that just good old-fashioned domestic growth in Washington and the United States. People and products need to get where they need to go. And while, yes, there will always be people who want to keep things the same – comfortable and without change (I am one of them). However, in this case, all indications are that change is inevitable.

The 2005 study mentioned in the last column shows a potential increase from 35 t0 104 trains a day by 2030. In the last two years, we have heard first about coal trains and more lately about oil trains. And, as you know, we already have oil and coal trains coming through town leading to more and longer trains… and the number of trains will grow. This creates delays for people traveling across the tracks, something that is not only inconvenient but raises serious safety concerns, as well as environmental and economic impacts.

The question is – what has been or can be done to address this long-term issue?

We have been working to raise public and governmental awareness on a number of fronts. The City Council has passed resolutions of concern about growing train traffic, principally focusing on safety concerns. Councilmembers Strom Peterson and Adrianne Fraley-Monillas have been actively involved regarding environmental issues. And, the City Council has supported my recommendation to join with other cities in a statewide effort to address coal train health issues and freight train volume concerns.

We have also met with several state legislators and have been invited by those legislators to testify before them on the various train-volume, at-grade-crossing and environmental issues facing Edmonds and the state. In addition, a group of legislators visited Edmonds last year and saw first-hand what we face daily as three trains came through, in a 20-minute period, while legislators were standing at Main Street and Railroad Avenue.

I have met locally with Burlington Northern- Santa Fe (BNSF) and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), as well as members of our federal delegation. More recently, I was part of a panel in Everett focused on addressing increased train volume and safety concerns.

The state-wide concern over increasing train traffic has also become a high priority for the Association of Washington Cities (AWC). I serve on the legislative committee and the newly formed rail task force. AWC has been working with the state and federal officials seeking answers and solutions for the issues that various cities across the state face. AWC will work the train volume issue into advocating for a state-wide transportation package. Candidly though, a transportation package this coming year in the Legislature is a long shot.

So, we have accomplished the task of raising public and governmental leadership’s awareness. There is recognition by state legislative and federal elected leaders, BNSF, AWC, WSDOT, and the region, that train traffic and safety are a growing problem that needs to be addressed in Edmonds and the state. The question for us now is: How do we maintain access to and from the waterfront, our parks, the Port, Senior Center, SR 104, the ferry system, our mainland side and our citizens and at the same time face up to a growing rail problem.

There is in fact, no easy answer. Many citizens have indicated they are interested in a train trench, others advocate for an overpass or underpass. Frankly, I don’t have a preference. I know we cannot just sit on our hands and allow history to happen to us. We just need to solve the problem.

We will once again seek dollars from the state level to do an Alternatives Analysis to come up with a variety of potential solutions that Edmonds, the region and the state find acceptable. Whatever the proper answer may be, it will take years to accumulate the dollars needed to realize a project.

In closing, I want to remind everyone about the upcoming Town Hall to discuss this issue. It is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 2, at 6:30 p.m. in the Plaza Room at the top of the Library. We will have speakers from the environmental community, BNSF, Puget Sound Regional Council and SSA Marine. We will also have representatives from Fire District 1 and WSDOT in attendance. I hope you can join us.

— Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling

19 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the clarity regarding the realities we have to face. Looks like whining and complaining are NOT in the solution column. I repeat: Thanks!

  2. if the problem takes years to resolve, can we at least ask the Washington State Legislator to pay for a quiet zone, at least alleviating one significant part of the problem. Can our Council push hard for that?

  3. Mayor’s quote – ” there will always be people who want to keep things the same – comfortable and without change (I am one of them).” Reinforces why I didn’t vote for him. Keeping things the same and without change is NOT how to run a city that IS growing and changing and evolving all around him.

    The train trench is intriguing but could never happen near a sensitive shoreline and protected marsh. Overpasses and a quite zone seem a more likely way to address some of the primary issues. It will be interesting to see what happens in Edmonds despite the Mayor’s reluctance to allow change in his city.

  4. A train carrying both oil tanker cars and coal travels along the Edmonds waterfront Friday afternoon. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

    Larry,
    Could you tell me which cars you think are the coal cars in this train? Also could you identify which ones hold the oil?

    I wish to educate you a little by telling you that there are no coal cars in this picture. If you would like a lesson on car identification, I would be happy to support you in telling the truth and not just a best guess.
    Best Regards,
    Nathan

  5. Nat – this photo shows a small section of a longer train that comprised both tank cars and hopper cars. This shot has tank cars in the foreground and if you look closely at the background you should be able to discern one of the hopper cars. It’s the last one you can see in this shot. I have other shots of this same train that clearly show both, and would be happy to share these if you are interested. I hope this clears things up for you. Thanks for your interest.

  6. Larry,
    not all hopper cars are coal cars. And the tank cars in the fore ground don’t hold oil. If you look up the placards you can find out what they are holding. Also not all open top hoppers have coal in them many may be empty hoppers for other uses including rock for the road bed that the railroad is built on.
    If you have other photos you can email them to me and I can help you identify them. I bet you they don’t have coal in them.

  7. Less than 1% of a car load. The findings on that data were for shipping data that I looked at over two years ago. There may be better data out there now. That was a significant drop from as much as 5% loss per car load. The new topping agents and loss prevention was and is a requirement enforced by BNSF on the coal shippers. The new shipping requirements were put in place about three years ago.

    This study was over used with the data that suits who ever was presenting information. As such I am having a hard time finding that original study. There is a lot of miss information floating about on railroad issues.

    Larry, here is just a long line of reporters and activists that does not know what they are looking at and may be calling a commodity that looks like coal, smells like coal, is in similar cars like coal and is not regulated like coal, coal. Coal is a commodity that comes in trains that are all together, in one train.

  8. Maybe it is time to look again at the plan to move the ferry terminal south and build a bridge over the RR tracks. Separating traffic over or under the railroad is the only long-term solution

  9. 1% of a carload works out like this. 120 tons per car @1% is 1.2 tons per car. With a 100 car train that would be 120 tons or the equivalent of one car per train is lost?

  10. I think Nathan may have meant that losses can be 1% of what they would be without the spray. I did a quick Google search and found a study that said the spray (surfactant) can reduce the loss by 95 to 99%. It said typical losses over a 500 mile trip are 0.2 to 0.4 tons per car. So I guess those losses are reduced to as much as .002 to .004 tons per car over a 500 mile trip. That’s about 4 to 8 pounds per car over 500 miles.

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