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Prioritize railroad and public safety in 2020

UPDATE (March 9, 2020) — On Friday, March 6, the deadline for bills to have passed both houses of the Washington State Legislature, HB 1841 passed the Senate, 34-15!

It has already passed the House of Representatives, 65-30, so now the bill heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for signature. Thank you to all the legislators who voted for it and all of the people who contacted them urging their support!


Senate hearing Feb. 20 on House-approved bill to set minimum train crew sizes in Washington state


OLYMPIA (Feb. 19, 2020) — Railroad companies have been trying to implement policies to limit train staffing to single-person crews on longer and longer trains, and even have explored automated train operation without immediate human oversight. These cost-cutting moves are intended to boost railroad company profits, but they have raised alarms among public safety and environmental experts.


HB 1841, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 58 representatives, establishes minimum train crew sizes to protect communities put at risk by these staffing cuts. Strongly supported by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/IBT, and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, HB 1841 passed the House of Representatives, 65-30, on Jan. 30.

The bill is now before the Washington State Senate, which has 21 bipartisan co-sponsors of the legislation, but allowed it to die without a vote in 2019.

TAKE A STAND — We can’t allow our communities to be put at risk for another year. Legislators must pass HB 1841 this legislative session! If you’re in the Olympia area, please attend the public hearing on HB 1841 this Thursday, Feb. 20 at 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee and sign in as an HB 1841 supporter. If you can’t be there, please call the Legislative Hotline today at 1-800-562-6000 and leave a message for your Washington State Senator urging them to prioritize public safety by passing HB 1841.

More than 1 million barrels of oil are shipped across Washington, by rail, every week. Each year, more oil trains are crossing our state, and they’re getting longer. Some of these trains run more than a mile of rail cars, containing highly flammable and combustible materials, and even these long trains are sometimes operated by a one-person crew.

Meanwhile, every single day there are an average of three significant, reportable train derailments in the United States. Last year, a 23-car derailment near Ritzville, Adams County, involved a hazardous cargo spill of sodium chlorate and subsequent fire that flared for days after the incident.


Public-safety experts say the dangers of longer and longer trains being operated by fewer people is an emergency that the Washington State Legislature must address in 2020.

“Without sensible regulations to pair appropriate crew sizes with volatile train freight, the ability to prevent accidents and respond to them quickly is diminished,” writes The Washington State Council of Firefighters and the Washington Fire Chiefs Association in support of HB 1841. “This is a problem that requires immediate attention. We ask that you prioritize public safety by passing multiple-person train crew size legislation this session, for the sake of communities across our state and the firefighters who serve them.”

Washington is currently lagging behind other states — including California, Nevada and Illinois — in protecting public safety in this respect.

“Without additional crew members to assist with de-coupling broken trains that can block roads and bridges, valuable time is lost when Emergency Response and Firefighters wait,” explains Bill Whealan of the Washington State Emergency Response Coalition.

Environmental groups are also calling for passage of HB 1841.

“Establishing minimum crew sizes for trains carrying oil and other hazardous materials is a commonsense step,” writes the Environmental Priorities Coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, Washington Conservation Voters, Cascade Bike Club, and Fuse Washington. “It would help with accident prevention and accident response, spotting and avoiding problems before they occur and acting quickly to mitigate damage when they do.”

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