Olympia- More than a mile of elevated train tracks run through the heart of downtown Spokane, and travelling on those tracks are trains hauling oil cars loaded with highly volatile Bakken crude oil.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, believes hauling oil on elevated tracks poses a safety hazard unique to Spokane and he wants to grant local authorities the ability to lower the speed limit of these trains to cut down on the possibility of a derailment.

“A derailment in Spokane’s downtown corridor would have drastic consequences,” said Billig. “A serious derailment and the ensuing explosion would result in the loss of life and would reportedly cost more than $700 million for clean-up and rescue efforts. Even a minor derailment could be a potential catastrophe. Downtown would most likely have to be evacuated which would hamper commerce, shut down nearby schools and hospitals, and force the city into gridlock. Added to the unique safety situation in Spokane is the potential ecological harm that could be caused if the oil made it into the Spokane River which flows directly into the Spokane aquifer – the single source of drinking water for more than 500,000 people.”

Under Billig’s Senate Bill 5098, certain cities or the state Utilities and Transportation Commission would be allowed to establish reduced speed limits for trains that pose a local threat provided it is not incompatible with federal law and does not unreasonably burden interstate commerce. Currently, under federal law, trains can travel upwards of 50 mph through Spokane.

“With elevated tracks running through such a densely populated area, we must take every precaution to ensure the safety of our residents,” said Billig. “I cannot emphasize enough how potentially dangerous this situation is. Spokane and other similar cities must be allowed to protect its citizens by lowering these speed limits. If not, we are simply inviting a disaster.”