NTSB releases report on Washington oil-train derailment

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report regarding a late 2020 oil-train derailment and fire in a rural Washington town close to the Canadian border.

>>Whatcom County train derailment was ‘no accident’: retired NTSB investigator

NTSB officials said in a Thursday news release that their report focused on how the derailed tank cars performed in the crash and not on determining the cause of the derailment.

Ten tank cars carrying Bakken crude oil to the Phillips 66 refinery at Cherry Point derailed and five caught fire in Custer on Dec. 22, sending a large plume of black smoke into the sky, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Seattle.

No injuries were reported. But the NTSB report said 120 people were evacuated from a half-mile radius around the site and about 29,000 gallons of petroleum crude oil were discharged from three of the tank cars.

The oil ignited and burned uncontrolled for two hours, and the damage was estimated to exceed $1.5 million, according to the report’s findings.

The report said nine of the 10 derailed tank cars had been enhanced to the industry standards for crude oil ordered in 2011.

The report comes after KUOW reported earlier this week that a railroad union official said the derailment was not an accident.

“We know from the FBI investigation, from how trains operate, how trains work, how the couplers work, how the pin lifters work, that this incident was caused without a doubt by sabotage,” Korey McDaniel with the union’s safety team told BNSF Railway investigators, according to a hearing transcript obtained by the station.

The incident happened near where two people had been arrested a month before and accused of attempting a terrorist attack on train tracks to disrupt plans for a natural gas pipeline.

Republican state Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale this week called for the Legislature to examine the recent allegations before the start of the 2022 legislative session.

State Rep. Sharon Shewmake, a Democrat from Bellingham, said said lawmakers should let investigators finish their work.

Officials from the FBI and the Federal Railroad Administration have told The Bellingham Herald they were withholding their reports until the NTSB released its findings.