State senator calls for Legislature to investigate Custer train derailment

Jun 11, 2021, 5:15 AM
train derailment, Custer derailment...
A train derailment in Custer, Wash. in December of 2020. (Photo courtesy of the state Department of Ecology)
(Photo courtesy of the state Department of Ecology)

After experts came forward stating that last winter’s oil train derailment in Custer was likely sabotage because of the way in which the train malfunctioned, the state senator representing the area is calling on the Legislature to investigate.

Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) told KIRO Radio he also wants lawmakers to increase penalties for train saboteurs to prevent future acts of what he calls “environmental terrorism.”

“I think it’s the Legislature’s duty to dig into the facts and to find out what’s going on … so that we can take proper action as a Legislature, number one, to condemn these types of activities, and number two, to look at legislation that might be necessary in the 2022 Legislative session to get tough on these types of actions,” he said.

No one was injured in the derailment, which saw seven of the train’s 108 cars overturn. Five cars caught fire, and 29,000 gallons of crude oil — about the equivalent of what one rail car carries — spilled.

Train carrying crude oil derails, catches fire in Whatcom County

The December derailment happened after a year that had seen dozens of acts of attempted rail sabotage in Whatcom and Skagit Counties in protest of oil and coal trains on their way to the Ferndale Refinery. In November, two people were arrested for allegedly placing shunts on train tracks in Bellingham, which can turn off certain rail safety features.

“I am very concerned about this activity and the impacts it’ll have on the economy, but also the impacts it’ll have on human life, if we don’t act strongly, and with one common voice say, ‘This is not acceptable in Washington state,'” Ericksen said, adding, “We need to come together as a state, as a region, as a people, to say that these types of terrorism are not fine here.”

He especially wants to see stronger punishments for rail sabotage — and not just for those placing the shunts on the tracks, but also for the organizers who hold the power and purse strings.

“I think it could be tougher penalties in Washington state — longer sentences, higher fines,” he said. “But the other key thing is not to just go after the people who … actually hurt the tracks, but to go after those people who are encouraging them, or facilitating, or providing those people with the payment and means to be able to do it.”

The Department of Ecology has said that the derailment fortunately caused only minimal environmental consequences, with the oil contained in a sort of natural basin, away from bodies of water that it could have infiltrated. However, the location of the derailment just makes Ericksen all the more suspicious that it was sabotage.

“If people were looking to for a place to do this that would not have environmental damage but definitely have economic damage, they definitely found a good location to do it,” Ericksen said.

Law enforcement has refused to speculate on the cause of the train derailment. The FBI is currently in the middle of an investigation, along with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Local News

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Pierce County deputies investigating death of 11-year-old

Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies said they were investigating the death of an 11-year-old girl in Midland, WA.
15 hours ago
Gee Ursula One Seattle...
KIRO Newsradio staff

Thousands of volunteers give back to the community for One Seattle Day

Thousands of volunteers gave back to the community on Saturday for One Seattle Day, including KIRO Newsradio's own Gee and Ursula Show.
15 hours ago
(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)...
Frank Sumrall

Mayor’s search for permanent Police Chief looms over Seattle amid depleting law enforcement numbers

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell recently consulted with a hiring firm as the decision to choose the next Chief of Police heats up.
3 days ago
Seattle Sun...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Sunny skies, warm temperatures forecast for western Washington this weekend

Sunny skies and warm temperatures are forecast for much of western Washington, with some areas expected to reach temps in the 70s.
3 days ago
Student STEM...
Nicole Jennings

From athletes to mathletes: STEM Signing Day shines light on WA scholars

STEM Signing Day gives stellar science, technology, engineering, and math scholars a chance to shine in the same way as high school athletes.
3 days ago
Prison 900x506...
MyNorthwest Staff

Governor Inslee cancels parole determination for triple murderer

Governor Inslee has cancelled an order that granted parole to Timothy Pauley, who had been incarcerated for three counts of first degree murder in 1981.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
State senator calls for Legislature to investigate Custer train derailment