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Seattle TV Station Uncovers BNSF Railroad Security Lapses

(Seattle, Washington – November 22, 2011)

While Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials were denying or downplaying the existence of proof of severe security compromising activities, Seattle, WA TV station KOMO, Channel 4, an ABC affiliate, was creating concern from Olympia, WA to Washington, DC as its “Problem Solvers” feature exposed practices by BNSF that could compromise national security.

The inclusion of both Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugett, who co-chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, as well as U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in the information chain triggered inquiries and investigations into BNSF’s practice of leaving locomotives idling, the cabs unlocked and the reverser – the key to placing a locomotive into motion – still in the control stand.

According to nearby residents and retired railroaders, the trains would be left, unattended and unlocked, for as many as 10 hours at a time, available to anyone who might want to use them for any purposes, from mischievous “joy rides” to espionage and terrorism. KOMO Investigative Reporter Liz Rocca and members of KOMO’s Problem Solvers team spent months in research, locating and climbing aboard unmanned, unlocked and unguarded trains hauling hazardous materials and chemicals, and running at idle, ready to be placed in operation.

When videotaped proof of the findings was presented to BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, his response was one of both doubt and denial, but the reaction from State and Federal agencies was far from trivial. While Washington State legislators were demanding that BNSF address the security concerns, three Federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration – alerted by Sen. Cantwell – initiated investigations into the problematic practices by railroads in general and BNSF in particular.

Meanwhile, according to an internal BNSF memo obtained by KOMO, the railroad has initiated a requirement that operating personnel remove the reversers from trains left idling and unlocked – but in the state of Washington, only.

KOMO will obviously be closely following and reporting on further rail security matters triggering state, national and corporate action.