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Rolling blunder? Oil train safety questioned

Anne Winkes has spent her life helping to protect the welfare of others. A retired pediatric nurse practitioner, she currently spends time looking out for herons on Padilla Bay, a reserve just north of her residence in Conway, Washington.
When Anne and her husband relocated to Conway nearly 30 years ago, she remembers feeling “a certain romance to hearing the occasional train whistle” as BNSF railroad cars rumbled past her home, less than a football field away. Their two-year-old son would dash excitedly to the window to watch the choo-choo train roll on by.
Recently, that romance turned sour; the excitement morphed into fear. First, the coal trains appeared. “Train after train, day and night,” says Winkes, “began to scream through Conway, many of them mile-long juggernauts hauling coal from the Powder River Basin.” A couple of years ago, the ground shook around her sleepy Skagit Valley town, tremors from deep within the Earth. It was hard to tell the difference between that earthquake and the constant rumbling of endless coal trains.
Then a new menace began riding the rails through Conway. “A year or so ago,” Anne recalls, “I noticed a new kind of train on the tracks—long, like the coal trains, but with black, cylindrical cars.” Oil trains had come to Conway. Trains bearing volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Anne Winkes was worried.
She had seen the news flashes detailing horrifying derailments and crashes of trains loaded with Bakken crude. Forty-seven dead in Quebec. Nearly a million gallons of oil gushing into a marsh in Alabama. A river set on fire—that’s right, on fire—in Virginia. Evacuations in New Brunswick and North Dakota itself.
Not one to stare at such stories with goggle-eyed resignation, Anne Winkes got off her couch and began a campaign. First she wrote to the editor of the Skagit Valley Herald. Then, partnering with a fellow activist from nearby Anacortes, she helped produce a dramatic poster overlaying the “blast zone” of the Lac Megantic, Quebec disaster with the neighboring Skagit community of Mount Vernon. The poster graphically displayed exactly how schools, the hospital, and downtown Mount Vernon might be decimated. Then she went door to door in Conway, asking folks to sign onto a petition by Forest Ethics requesting that the governors of Washington and Oregon put a stop to future oil-by-rail permits until further independent studies regarding the safety, economic and environmental impacts of oil train transportation are completed.
Anne hopes that other concerned citizens will “talk to their mayors, their city council members, their firemen, their sheriffs, their friends about the dangers of transporting oil by rail.” Or sign Anne’s online petition at Or contact Governor Jay Inslee.
The message at the end of the line? “Stop shipping crude oil by rail until it can be done in a manner which does not threaten the safety and health of the communities and environments through which it travels,” says Winkes. Then maybe, just maybe, the day will come again when kids and their parents can enjoy the spectacle of passing choo-choo trains carrying passengers, crops, and manufactured goods made by hard-working families instead deadly cargo from a polluting industry we no longer need to fuel our nation’s economy. Not to mention it’s doubtful that trains carrying solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal condensers would pose such acute health and safety concerns.

Fiery oil train derailment devastates Quebec community.
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