From Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling: What’s the scoop…? More trains, coal trains, oil trains…?

Mayor Dave Earling
Mayor Dave Earling

Over the past year or more, you have all heard about, read about, or talked about the ongoing news of more trains, coal trains and oil trains. So what is all the fuss about and what’s going on to address the prospect of additional trains into the state and more specifically, Edmonds?

To begin with, a bit of background… many of you will recall at one time we, along with the State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), had plans to move the ferry dock to south of the Port, a project forecast to cost $238 million. We had $80 million to $90 million obligated for the project… and then… the 2008 recession hit, and… all of that money was de-obligated to other construction-ready projects across the state and nation.

As a part of that project, a study was completed in 2005 that projected long-term train traffic through Edmonds to increase beyond the approximately 35 trains a day currently coming through our city. The study concluded that by 2020, we would have about 70 trains coming through town, and by 2030 the number would approach 104 trains per day.

Even with our current 35 trains a day, we shut down our two at-grade-crossings (Dayton and Main) to the waterfront for a total of an hour and a half in a 24-hour period. If the 104 trains a day projection were correct, we would lose access to and from the waterfront for up to four hours a day! Losing access to and from the Port, State Highway (SR 104), the Ferry system and the Senior Center for four hours per day is clearly unacceptable to the citizens of Edmonds, WSDOT and the region.

Enter coal trains and oil trains! Yep, more train traffic!

The news of coal trains began about a year and a half ago. Much of the discussion is driven by coal being readily available in Wyoming and Montana and having markets thirsting for coal in Asia, specifically China. The discussion is further elevated with refining plants proposed in Washington and Oregon, and more specifically, the proposed Cherry Point coal refining project near Bellingham. If that project were to be approved, we could have an additional 9-18 train trips through Edmonds.

Yes, we already have coal trains coming through Edmonds as they make their way to existing facilities in British Columbia. Many have legitimate concerns over environmental and health issues related to coal dust and even the ultimate burning of coal. The other main concern centers on the length of the coal trains; it is not unusual to have coal trains in excess of 100 cars. I have counted up to 116 cars, shutting down access to Dayton and Main for six to seven minutes. So, with an increase in coal train trips, we would see not only a higher frequency of shut-downs at Dayton and Main, but also increased concern over the worrisome health issues that must be addressed.

And now, the most recent conversation adds the potential of Oil Trains to the mix. The Oil Train issue comes as a result of expanding drilling of oil from the Baaken oil in North Dakota and that huge new source of oil finding its way to market. I want to emphasize this issue is just beginning to surface and we do not have extensive information as of yet. However, what’s clear is that there will be more potential train volume concerns as well as new environmental issues.

The potential for an oil spill happening in Edmonds or along Puget Sound would be a larger-than-life, catastrophic regional and state event. As you may know, oil trains are coming through Edmonds now. I recently counted 106 oil cars in one train; again, another six- to seven-minute shutdown of the at-grade-crossings.

Our lobbyists in Olympia recently attended a meeting and briefing called by the Department of Ecology (DOE) and the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). They reported that we currently have 19 oil trains coming into the state per week. As the North Dakota oil wells and production grow, we could have 59-90 oil trains coming into the state each week. (Emphasize again, PRELIMINARY information and oil trains entering the STATE, not just Edmonds)

I recognize I have downloaded a whole lot of information to you in this writing. In my next column, I will review with you what work is being done locally and at the state and federal levels to address the whole train volume/safety issue. We are moving on a variety of fronts and working the issues with our legislators and other state and federal leaders.

If you would, please mark your calendars for Oct. 2nd at 6:30 p.m. for a Train Volume/Safety Town Hall Meeting in the Plaza Room on the top floor of the Library. Watch for more information as the date draws closer.

— By Dave Earling


13 Replies to “From Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling: What’s the scoop…? More trains, coal trains, oil trains…?”

  1. I have noticed the plethora of coal trains, etc. One does wonder, if Edmonds is to suffer the coal train deluge, why aren’t the coal trains COVERED? It would help prevent the coal nuggets from bouncing out of the cars and polluting the tracks and everything else in its wake. Unfortunately it would not help much on coal dust.

    Best solution, of course, would be no coal trains, but that may not be an option.


  2. There is a HUGE movement all over to stop the coal trains and the Bakken oil trains. Many people are even lying down on tracks in some areas to stop these trains. This is a huge movement and I don’t believe people are waiting for legislation or government officials to stop this big business, so many are taking it upon themselves. The Baaken oil issue is not new

    There are thousands of people working on no coal trains and no Bakken oil trains, so this is not new news. There is a huge amount of grass roots information online for all to become involved. All of these trains are BAD business……

    It’s like Libby, Montana and asbestos, which is still in millions of homes……Big business trumps health and safety is historical so a lot of people are taking it upon themselves to make sure these trains are stopped.


  3. The Bakken oil issue is not new and as a matter of fact, part of the reason these round, old tanks full of oil that we have seen coming through here for quite some time are in old tank cars that makes it even more dangerous is because there isn’t even enough time to get all new tanks built ….I read this report at least a couple/few months ago. One town in Canada had an explosion that wiped out a good section of a small town, and killed 47 people. Bakken oil is extremely explosive and dangerous. I know there have been other derailments/ explosions, and this doesn’t even address a spill into our waters. I believe the law is that the trains have to transport whatever they are asked to transport. If this is true, that law needs to be changed, and then someone like Warren Buffet who is tied into this business needs to have his companies boycotted to make this type of money making business stopped.

    Again, this is not new news, and I don’t understand how our Mayor so involved in transportation does know this…..and believes this is new news.

    The citizens of Edmonds need to be in front of this, not behind it. It cannot be emphasized enough how dangerous these trains are. Moving the ferry dock means nothing in regards to the danger of this just passing through.


    1. This is not new news for Mayor Earling; this has been a topic of concern for him in several of his speeches, for example his State Of The City speech in February.


  4. Thank you for the information Mr. Mayor. I will comment only on the “coal train” issue here. Anything we can do to help balance out the trade deficit is going to be good for our economy. One of these is increasing of our exports of coal to China to help narrow that deficit. China’s appetite for coal is driven by “our” appetite for Chinese made goods. Why don’t we all wake up & realize the each one of us starting with citizens of Edmonds has immense power to deal with this coal train problem. Shall I say “nip it in the bud.” STOP BUYING GOODS MADE IN CHINA, or anywhere outside of our home, The United States of America. My wording may not be to clear, but my point is Buy American & all this goes away.


    1. I share your sentiments, but in a global economy not buying Chinese seems impractical, if not impossible: even my Norwegian brand skis are made in China…

      I put my personal emphasis more on simply buying less (with a bias toward US-made when possible). But balancing the trade deficit by loading down our infrastructure with dangerous coal and oil, and adding to world-wide pollution is NOT the answer for anyone with a long view (not that you implied that it was).

      The US needs to wake up and think about both the global economy and its implications, and start to take some decisions based on long-range predictions, and not on the next election cycle or the quick (mega) buck.


  5. I am genuinely baffled about this concern about coal and coal dust. I had a neighbor who heated his house with coal (this was as recently as the 1980s) and had the stuff shoveled into a huge bin in his garage. Nobody got sick from it. Yes, burning it generates CO2, which many people feel is a problem, but that will happen whether it moves through Edmonds or not. I cannot imagine that coal trains are going to throw a significant amount of coal dust into the air and affect anything at all. As for the coal itself, it’s dug out of the ground (including locally within the last hundred years) and is in no way dangerous. Coal miners develop problems because they are in tunnels underground digging at the stuff all day long. Much different situation.

    Oil trains, however, are potentially quite dangerous and can involve a very real and immediate and non-theoretical loss of life in the case of a derailment and fire. That is something that should be taken seriously and not be mixed up with what looks to me like a bunch of political posturing about global warming.


  6. Burlington Northern is owned by Warren Buffet, and he donates money to President Obama’s fund raising because he does not want oil transported by pipes, which this present administration has blocked regularly. in that case there WILL be oil on trains, which will increase as there is so much oil in Northern Dakota that there is a never ending supply, and how does it get out without the only means of being put on trains? No one has mentioned the noise factor yet. Why? It is constant some nights. Last Saturday there were 3 long, fast trains at 3.00 am , 3.05 am and 3.15 am all blowing their horns through our town, and this happens regularly and of course through the day. In the future we will be one long train noise and these trains will have our town divided from the ferry and the beach. Anyone caring about the noise?? Our City governors could have dealt with this aspect years ago and could find the money now to significantly reduce the noise! Instead, somewhere into the future (when ?) the Mayor wants to bundle a package for access to the beach, businesses and ferry. So how long will that all take? How about dealing with the noise factor FIRST.


      1. Sirens, etc. are a different thing altogether, not as loud, not as frequent. Loud train horns are on the increase, and dominate as the things you mention do not. And the problem is amenable to improvement.


      1. Laughing that anyone would entertain the thought that Obama is the only rewarded one……….pay to play……that is quite funny……..Buffets billions came in long before Obama and were from many, many entities. How silly of me to believe that when Obama (and I voted for Hillary anyway!) said he was going to get rails going at full speed (during campaign), I actually thought for travel of people, (you know, throw away the gas guzzling cars that are out there, which practically just about everyone owns, and the bigger the better) not dangerously threatening products that we have on those rails now (coal and Bakken oil and who knows what else, and not new news)……..Doesn’t seem to matter now which political bent you are, nobody in power or big business gives a ratz you know what in regards to the safety of the citizens of this country……and if we have a good example here at this liitle teeny tiny town level, which I really am hoping not.

        …….”corruption, broadly understood as placing private interests over the public good in public office, is at the root of what ails American democracy”… understood by Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizen United…..

        .”it is the most pressing threat that our democracy faces”………..”democracy” being the key word here

        Of course, there are some that blatantly just come out and say we are not a democracy!….I just have to say, Wow! I guess under the circumstances some could easily say that like it is a badge of honor…..Again, Wow! Isn’t democracy what we have been trying to set up in all the areas we have sent our military?

        I hope we are all working for the greater good now, and if not, I hope those that believe in the greater good step forward and let their voices be heard and those that are only working for the select few step aside…………..We have seen now how that does not work…………


  7. These issues may be important at some level, especially if you have politics and party affiliation types of interests. Thinking locally though, and looking forward 5, 10 and 20 years from now there is a serious potential for overwhelming congestion @ our waterfront. As this happens, the economic and geographic value of the Edmonds waterfront will be altered and likely diminish, increased train traffic will not enhance the waterfront experience.

    At the town hall meeting last night, the Mayor presented the long term arithmetic of it all. Check out the video.


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