Three major U.S. railway accidents in the past seven months have shined a light on local preparedness for cities across the country.
Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich, who also serves as the city’s emergency management director, said the Washington Fire Department is prepared to handle a train derailment and has in the past.
“There are a lot of influences that would dictate what plan we would run,” Halmich said. “We have gone through those scenarios.”
The department has plans lined out with several scenarios, including if the train was carrying freight, passengers or both.
“The challenge we’ve always had in the past with railway situations is access,” Halmich said, adding that there is less access in the rural area, but there also are fewer people in those outlying areas.
Halmich said a train derailment would be handled similarly to a hazardous materials response, because that would be the worst case scenario for a train derailment.
If a train derails east or west of the city, part of the plan includes accessing the derailment by boat, as long as there isn’t ice.
In April 2013, Halmich attended a “tabletop exercise” for railway accidents organized by the local emergency planning committee and held at Pacific City Hall. There is talk of continuing the workshop this April.
Halmich said the city has handled hazmat situations, vehicle accidents with trains and derailments in and outside of the city.
The last derailment included more than 30 coal cars that derailed west of Washington.
The city avoided a railway situation last year, Halmich said, when an agricultural corn planter broke down at the St. John’s Island crossing.
The 20,000-pound piece of equipment could not be moved without another piece of machinery.
Fire department personnel were sent east and west of the accident site to flag down trains until the tracks were cleared.
Halmich said the department communicates with railroad personnel and has worked with them in the past.
“The railroad tracks are a part of Washington, so transportation consideration is something we’re always looking at and discussing,” Halmich said. “It’s an ongoing process.”