There will be tens of thousands of people meandering around Chambers Bay during the PGA Tour U.S. Open, taking place near train tracks connected to one of the most deadly railway corridors in Washington.
An average of 60 trains pass by the golf course every day, according to BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Malonas. That won’t change during the golf tournament near Tacoma, June 18-21.
Ten people in Washington have been killed by trains this year. The most fatalities occur in the corridor between south Tacoma and Bellingham.
“All through the corridor, it’s the most problematic,” Malonas said.
Material being carried in the train cars can range from automobiles to elephants and oil, Malonas said. That will not change during the U.S. Open.
Because the tracks are used by oil trains, Chambers Bay won’t just be the site of the golf championships. The People’s Climate Action Fleet plans to be on the water in protest of the trains during the first weekend of the Open.
“We have a deep concern knowing that the railroad is running these bomb trains near congested areas, but not just this golf course at this particular time,” said Rod Tharp of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation. “We are also extremely concerned that these trains are running through a large number of communities across our state.”
The action fleet will be in kayaks and other watercraft June 21.
The Olympia Fellowship and Backbone Campaign are behind the planned protest. Backbone is one of the groups connected to the kayak protests of the Shell oil rig at the Port of Seattle.
But protesters may face some difficulty in getting their message across. There will be a 1,000-yard safety zone off shore during the U.S. Open, according to Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Captain Scott Mielcarek, the law enforcement incident commander for the U.S. Open. Anyone who violates that zone will be subject to arrest.
There is a fence that runs along the length of Chambers Bay, Mielcarek said. But that does not mean safety isn’t a concern.
“We are working diligently to come up with a robust security plan,” he added.
There will be BNSF police and other added security near the tracks. Patrols will be done on the rails and on foot, Malonas said.
“Some people don’t know [about] the dangers of the railroad,” he said. “They become complacent and they’re not around tracks all the time.”
Anyone caught on BNSF property faces an approximate $500 fine for criminal trespassing.