Editorial: Railroads need to disclose oil shipments

Railroad companies that have already been slow to share information with Oregon first responders about oil train shipments now want to keep even more secrets.

The state of Oregon should not let them get away with that.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. and Union Pacific have asked the state to sign an agreement that information about oil train shipments will only be released “for bonafide emergency planning and emergency response activities,” according to The Oregonian.

In other words, first responders would be informed and the general public would be in the dark. That’s wrong.

The railroad companies made the same request of Washington state officials. Washington refused to sign. Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is considering the request.

Oregon should not let railroad companies dictate what is disclosed to the public.

First responders should get more complete information about routes and volumes. They need to be able to plan for accidents. But they have not even been getting that information from rail companies.

The public should know what routes are used and the general overall volume of those shipments. The routes go through towns and there is a risk of accidents.

We acknowledge there is a need to be careful about how much information should be publicly available. Precise information about individual shipments could be useful to terrorists. So obviously there does need to be a balance. A summary of the volumes for the year along different routes through Oregon strikes us as one solution.

The Oregon Department of Transportation — which is supposed to represent the interests of Oregonians — dragged its feet earlier this year when it was asked by The Oregonian for records about dangerous substances moving through Oregon, including oil. It took an order from the Department of Justice for ODOT to release those records.

Railroads and the state need to be forthcoming to the public about the shipments moving through the state. Railroads don’t get to decide what Oregonians know.