Don’t look now, but train derailments are hitting Grays Harbor, Washington like Detroit Tiger Victor Martinez is slamming pitchers. Seven cars of a grain-hauling train derailed last night near Montesano, making the incident the third train derailment in Grays Harbor County in the past two weeks.
Five grain cars jumped the tracks on April 29 at South Washington Street just south of State Street in Aberdeen. The derailment was attributed to soft ground resulting from recent heavy rains. A second derailment occurred on May 9 when a train passing in front of Walmart in Aberdeen derailed. A third derailment took place on May 15.
Local government, railroad officials and proponents and opponents of oil by rail are taking notice. Speaking of “notice,” here’s an interesting item in an April 30, 2014 article in The Daily World by Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson:
“Nelson said a grain car derailment happened once several years ago, but couldn’t recall the date.”
Curious, isn’t it, how the last such derailment apparently occurred “several years ago,” but we suddenly see three derailments in two weeks, just as the debate over oil by rail is heating up? Crude oil shipping proposed by Westway Terminals, Imperium Renewables and U.S. Development at the Port is working its way through the permitting process.
Besides the curious timing, the potential impact of these derailments on the local economy is also significant, with employers like Pasha Automotive Services depending on rail to move vehicles into the county. For many Pasha employees, no rail means no product means no work.
While no one wants to see a major train derailment in Grays Harbor and safety concerns remain paramount, some interesting possibilities emerge regarding cause and effect. Is Puget Sound & Pacific, the local short line rail operator, falling down on the job big-time? Are the tracks in such disrepair that they decided to “sympathetically detonate”? Are repair funds as scarce as a slim sow? What about operator error (ruled out in at least one instance)? Or is something else is going on?
What say you?