‘It could have been a disaster:’ Tacoma man derails train after tampering with railroad equipment

A 65-year-old man is now behind bars after police said he intentionally tampered with railroad equipment. The incident happened just before 8 a.m. Tuesday.

“It could have been a disaster, it could have been an environmental catastrophe,” said Herb Krohn, a railroad conductor and the union’s state legislative director. “There could have been a fire, any number of horrible things could have happened.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway declined KIRO 7′s request for an interview but confirmed that only one car was derailed. BNSF also said the car stayed upright so there were no spills. No one was injured either.

“This is not the first act of sabotage against oil trains in Washington state,” Krohn said. He said intentional derailment has been an ongoing issue.

“We have had situations with a homeless individual boarded a train armed with a machete. In the last couple of years there’s just been a whole rash of incidents in that area involving public safety,” Krohn said.

Other incidents include one from 2020 near Bellingham where a woman was convicted of placing a shunt device that interferes with train signals on the tracks. Another in Whatcom County involved a train carrying thousands of gallons of crude oil. The train derailed, then caught fire in Custer, about 90 miles north of Seattle.

“The railroads know these are dangerous commodities and yet they’re not doing enough to protect the public and the environment and the workers,” Krohn said.

There are efforts to try to make things safer. Sen. Maria Cantwell is leading a discussion and committee vote on a bipartisan railway safety bill that is looking at everything from enhancing safety regulations to stronger emergency response plans.

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