Se­cret rail­road in­spec­tion data frus­trates of­fi­cials

The Daily Herald - - LOCAL NEWS -

SPOKANE — Rail­roads ap­pear to keep most data on their bridge in­spec­tions se­cret, even af­ter a fed­eral law al­lowed lo­cal of­fi­cials to re­quest the in­for­ma­tion.

Spokane City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ben Stuckart said he re­quested copies of Union Pa­cific and BNSF Rail­way bridge in­spec­tions, hop­ing to learn more about the con­di­tion of the in­fras­truc­ture that sup­ports trains car­ry­ing oil and other haz­ardous cargo through the city daily, The Spokesman Re­view re­ported.

Sev­eral of the city’s bridges show signs of ag­ing and others are reg­u­larly hit by semi-trucks, ac­cord­ing to Stuckart.

He said he was ex­pect­ing an engi­neer’s anal­y­sis of the struc­tures, but only got a one-page re­port for each bridge.

“There was zero de­tail,” said Stuckart, who de­scribed the re­port as con­tain­ing a check-marked box say­ing the bridge passed an in­spec­tion con­ducted by the rail­road.

Rail­roads’ bridge in­spec­tion re­ports aren’t con­sid­ered pub­lic doc­u­ments, but a fed­eral bill gave city and state of­fi­cials the right to re­quest pub­lic ver­sions of the in­spec­tions last year. Lead­ers in Mil­wau­kee pushed for the bill af­ter Cana­dian Pa­cific ini­tially re­fused to re­lease in­spec­tion re­ports for a cor­roded bridge used by oil trains.

There are about 77,000 pri­vate rail bridges na­tion­ally and eight fed­eral em­ploy­ees who in­spect them. Rail­roads are left to con­duct their own in­spec­tions, with pe­ri­odic au­dits by the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

BNSF is re­spon­si­ble for most of the oil train traf­fic through Spokane. Spokes­woman Court­ney Wal­lace says the com­pany’s bridges are in­spected at least twice a year, more than re­quired by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“We will not run trains over, on or through any in­fras­truc­ture that we think is un­safe,” Wal­lace said.

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