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Rail News: BNSF Railway

BNSF agrees to clean up coal, petcoke emitted from rail cars

BNSF Railway Co. will clean up coal and petroleum coke in waterways, fund a study of rail-car covers and pay $1 million for environmental projects in Washington state, according to consent decree filed in U.S. District Court.

The decree resolves a Clean Water Act lawsuit in Seattle brought against BNSF by environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Under the decree, BNSF will pay for the cleanup of Pacific Northwest waterways that were polluted by coal or petroleum coke that spilled from open-topped rail cars.

In addition, BNSF will pay $1 million for environmental projects in the Bellingham, Puget Sound, Columbia River and Spokane River areas. The Class I also will clean up areas of the Columbia River and its tributaries that have been littered with coal and petroleum coke from BNSF trains.

Moreover, the decree requires the railroad to fund a study about covers for rail cars carrying coal and petroleum coke.

BNSF officials said the agreement reflects the Class I's long-term efforts to address coal dust "and allows us to continue that practice without the distraction of a prolonged legal battle," according to a prepared statement issued by company spokeswoman Courtney Wallace.

The environmental groups initially sued BNSF for $4.6 trillion, and the $1 million settlement "reflects the truth that the sweeping allegations from the plaintiffs were simply unfounded," said Wallace.

Additionally, BNSF denies any violations of the Clean Water Act, and the U.S. District Court judge did not find any specific violations.

Regarding the study of physical covers for coal and petroleum coke trains, Wallace said the first step will be to identify available prototypes for testing.

"BNSF will develop a study protocol to assess the safety and commercial and operational feasibility of available prototypes, as well as their effectiveness in reducing coal or petroleum coke dust," Wallace said. "The settlement does not require a particular outcome or conclusion with respect to car covers. The study results will be driven by data and technical analysis."

During a weeklong trial in November 2016, scientists testified that a million or more coal particles per second come off each rail car. The particles release mercury, arsenic and other pollutants into waterways along BNSF rail lines, they testified, according to a press release issued by the environmental groups.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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