Editorial: BNSF needs to be a good neighbor

An amazing thing happened when U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., showed up in Bend on Friday.

Central Oregon’s first responders finally got some answers they need.

First responders need to know what dangers they may face from an accident from the trains that rumble through the area.

What size oil spill might occur? What sorts of chemicals roll through town?

They had asked for that information from the railroad. Responders are entitled to it. They have not been getting it.

Johan Hellman, an executive director of government affairs for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, went through a long list of reasons why BNSF doesn’t usually share such information publicly. He cited federal regulations. He cited the expectation of privacy of BNSF customers.

And then he said: “That doesn’t mean that local first responders don’t have the ability to get that information.”

Wyden interrupted Hellman and asked Bill Boos, deputy chief of fire operations of the Bend Fire Department, if he had the information.

“Actually, to be honest with you, I just got it today,” Boos said.

The timing of the breakthrough got Wyden’s attention.

“They hadn’t gotten it in the past,” Wyden said. “And somehow magically through the roof it fell this afternoon.”

It should not take the arrival of a U.S. senator to compel BNSF to release a basic summary to help keep communities safe.

“We can’t just have communities get information when … United States senators schedule a forum,” Wyden said.

Of course, it’s good that BNSF has now provided a summary. But the railroad needs to show it takes its responsibility to the communities its trains pass through seriously all the time — not just when there’s a U.S. senator around.