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Oil Train Workers Raise Questions About Safety

BNSF Railway, the second largest freight network in the U.S., is at the center of the boom in crude by rail. The railroad touts its commitment to safety. Current and former workers question the safety culture on the ground. (Michael Werner)
BNSF Railway, the second largest freight network in the U.S., is at the center of the boom in crude by rail. The railroad touts its commitment to safety. Current and former workers question the safety culture on the ground. (Michael Werner)

Crude oil shipments by rail increased by more than 80 percent, nationally, last year. Most of it is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. That crude is more flammable than other types of oil, and has been shown to catch fire and explode when trains derail.

More than 15 trains of Bakken oil move through some parts of the Northwest each week, en route to refineries and terminals in Washington and Oregon.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway transports the majority of that oil. The company regularly touts its commitment to safety. But an EarthFix investigation reveals some troubling patterns in the way BNSF Railway deals with whistleblowers — particularly those who voice concerns about safety.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Ashley Ahearn of KUOW reports.

Reporter

  • Ashley Ahearn, environment reporter at KUOW and part of the award-winning regional multimedia collaborative project EarthFix. She tweets @aahearn.

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