It was still the ninth inning when fans began filtering out of the stadium. The Seattle Mariners were wrapping up a 3-2 win over Detroit on a warm, spring Saturday night. It was a perfect day at the ballpark.
Yet there was chance—unlikely but entirely possible—that it could have been an epic disaster. With perhaps 40,000 people heading out into the city, this train came barreling past within just a few yards of Safeco Field.
In case you’re wondering, that is almost certainly a loaded oil train. It’s a hundred or so tank cars each carrying roughly 30,000 gallons of a notoriously explosive type of shale oil. It’s exactly the same kind of train—loaded up with exactly the same kind of fuel—that resulted in a deadly disaster in a small town in Quebec. That led to this explosion in Alabama. And this fireball just outside Fargo, North Dakota. And this conflagration in New Brunswick. And this inferno in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia.
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If the Safeco Field oil train had derailed and exploded, the damage would have been almost too horrific to imagine. For those not familiar with the local area, those steel girders in the foreground are actually part of the stadium’s retractable roof. That’s how close by the trains pass.
For the safety of others, officials search every bag fans bring to the game for bottles and other nuisances. But BNSF has the prerogative to make a potentially lethal run within a (literal) stone’s throw of tens of thousands of folks just enjoying a night in the stands. It ought to be illegal.
A couple additional points to bear in mind:
- Freight trains have derailed within a few hundred yards of that location in the last couple of years.
- Oil trains are radically under-insured against the risk of catastrophic explosion, and the costs would fall overwhelmingly on taxpayers.
- The oil-by-rail industry is refusing to phase out older and obviously unsafe tank cars; the industry routinely lobbies against safety regulations; and even the newer-model tank cars can burst into flames while carrying shale oil.