Just days before Christmas, as parcels were being prepared and stockings stuffed, ten rail cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota, destined for a nearby Phillips 66 refinery, derailed along a section of BNSF track. The incident occurred just south of the Canadian border and was considered a low-speed derailment. While a plume of smoke billowed from some of the derailed tanker cars after they ignited, there were ultimately no injuries. The derailment caused some oil to spill and necessitated the evacuation of local residents closest to the incident.
Seattle media reported the incident with finger-wagging smugness directed toward the oil and gas industry although the event remains under investigation. Even U.S Representative, Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) chimed in with a statement, presumably because the incident occurred in his district.
I am concerned about the oil train derailment in Custer, WA. I worked closely with the Obama administration to create strong rules to make the transport of oil by rail safer. Clearly there may be more work to do.
However, insight from recent incidents in Washington State should have tipped off the media and congressman Larson that this event was no more about a failure of rail safety than a jet crash is about the failure of the tray table to stay in an upright position.
Only a month earlier two women were arrested not far from the same section of track where these ten cars derailed. In that case two young terror suspects, both of whom appeared in Federal Court in Seattle in mid-December, were charged with Terrorist Attacks and Other Violence Against Railroad Carriers.
Two people arrested on the BNSF Railway tracks near Bellingham, Whatcom County, were charged with terrorist attack and other violence against a railroad carrier, and appeared in federal court today, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. SAMANTHA FRANCES BROOKS, 27, and ELLEN BRENNAN REICHE, 23, both of Bellingham, Washington, were arrested Saturday night in Bellingham as they allegedly placed a ‘shunt’ on the tracks. A shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features.
“Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties—causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals,” said U.S. Attorney Moran. “These crimes endanger our community. I commend the agents from Customs and Border Protection, FBI, BNSF Police, and state and local partners who prioritized stopping this criminal conduct.”
The defendants, two pale-faced, pacific northwest locals, are accused of laying a wire “shunt” on the track. A tool beloved of environmental terrorists, shunts consist of a wire and magnets strung across a railroad track, mimicking the electrical signal of a train. The devices are intended to force trains to automatically brake, causing the train to derail or to otherwise disable railroad crossing guards and various other safety features along a track.
This is done by disrupting the low-level electrical current on the tracks. A camera captured Reiche and Brooks bent down along the track where the shunt was found. They were also carrying a brown paper bag containing rubber gloves, a piece of black insulated copper wire, and a Makita drill.
Of particular note regarding the case of these environmental terrorists is that their efforts represent only one of 41 similar incidents of shunts having been placed on rail tracks in that part of Washington during 2020, nearly one per week throughout 2020.
Imagine for a moment that instead of having used shunts to damage property and to threaten human life, they had attempted to detonate a suicide vest, or had attempted to fly planes into buildings, or had attempted to blow up a parked truck in a downtown city street. Shunts on rail tracks are intended to have an equally tragic outcome for passenger trains and commercial trains alike. Shunts are non-discriminating after all.
That no one has yet been killed or injured, or that homes have not yet been destroyed by these terrorist tactics is nothing short of luck. Failed attacks make the attempts no less serious. But for the attention and acumen of BNSF workers who monitor the tracks, and the speed with which of law enforcement responded to the call when requested, the outcome could have been tragically different.
According to U.S. Attorney Brian Moran, in another shunting incident in October this year shunts were placed in three locations on tracks in northwest Washington. This prompted emergency brakes to engage on a train hauling flammable gas and hazardous chemicals. The braking caused a bar to fail that connects the train cars. As a result, the cars became separated. The decoupling had the potential to cause the derailment in a residential neighborhood.
Of these 41 incidents, there were at least ten different occasions where shunts were placed on the track near enough to a roadway to potentially cause crossing-signal and crossing-arm malfunctions, including failure to block traffic when a train was oncoming. On at least two occasions, individual shunts have interfered with multiple roadway/railway signals.
The narrative of these environmental zealots is that pipelines are an infringement on land rights; land that they assert belongs to North American Indian ,tribes. According to their narrative, by destroying pipelines, or in this case, transportation infrastructure, all will be right in the world of first nations' politics. These non-first nation terrorists are apparently even willing to kill innocents to make that point.
According to investigators, shortly after the first shunts were discovered in January, 2020, a claim of responsibility was published on an anarchist website called It's GoingDown.org. The claim read, “the shunting activity was carried out in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline.”
While many Americans look west and roll their eyes about the extremism of the environmental zealots in states like Washington, caution is advised. The cancer has already metastasized. Just a day after Christmas, while Canadians were celebrating Boxing Day, three Black Hills Energy gas line sites were vandalized in Colorado; two in Pitkins County and one in Aspen. The FBI has joined local police in the criminal investigation of what they are referring to as an apparent "coordinated attack."
It is clear that these gas line attacks in Colorado, like the shunt attacks on the rail lines in Washington, are part of a larger, anti-energy campaign designed to dismantle and destroy energy infrastructure and to harm life and property in the process. The last time there were terrorists intent on harming our way of life, they flew two planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11. In the face of that reality, the country must be ready to confront the threat directly, root out the financiers of the activity and punish those who choose to participate.