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Shawn Vestal: New safety standards for oil trains are needed to prevent tragedy

Shawn VestalMay 15, 2019

Washington’s new law to establish safer standards on the highly flammable oil trains that pass regularly through Spokane – past hospitals, a high school, a freeway – is likely headed for a courtroom.

Andy Billig, the Spokane Democrat and Senate majority leader, hopes that will be just a short stop on the way to its eventual destination: a safer national standard for oil trains, which can become massive, mile-long bombs when they derail.

“The federal government has been falling down on the job in regulating oil train safety,” Billig said this week.

But states and communities have little regulatory recourse; railroads are largely governed by federal law, and efforts to set safer federal standards have stalled. The Spokane City Council took a run at imposing safety standards on coal and oil trains, but backed away after its attorney said it was almost certain to die a legal death in court.

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