A rail union official reportedly told investigators that a fiery oil train derailment north of Seattle in December was caused by sabotage.
On December 22, 2020 at 11:45 AM, 10 BNSF train cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in Custer, WA. Plumes of black smoke rose into the sky near the Canadian border. No injuries were reported in the derailment. A BNSF Railway spokeswoman said that the train was comprised of "around 108 cars" and was carrying crude oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in Ferndale when the cars derailed.
At the time, the disaster resembled what alleged eco-terrorists have been attempting and arrested for in Washington state since early in 2020.
According to a hearing transcript of the investigation obtained by KUOW, half a mile behind the locomotive on the mile long train, two tanker cars un-coupled. This should have triggered the emergency brakes. Instead, the 15,000-ton train’s two halves separated without stopping.
The 45 tanker cars on the now un-coupled second half of the train accelerated to twice the speed limit for a full load of hazardous material then impacted with the front tanker cars, causing the derailment and resulting fire.
According to the transcript obtained by KUOW, Korey McDaniel with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers while consulting for the union’s safety team told BNSF Railway investigators “We know from the FBI investigation, from how trains operate, how trains work, how the couplers work, how the pin lifters work, that this incident was caused without a doubt by sabotage.”
KUOW reported that a driver reported seeing two young men emerge from the tracks several minutes before the train derailed.
The Post Millennial previously reported that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of "shunts" on the BNSF tracks since January 2020. Former US Attorney Brian Moran said at the time, "…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."
On Nov. 28, two women from Bellingham, Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, were arrested and charged with terrorism after an attack on BNSF railroad by allegedly placing a "shunt" on the tracks which disrupts the low-level electrical current on the tracks and can disable the train’s safety features. The town of Custer where the derailment occurred is located just north of Bellingham near the Washington state and Canadian border.
According to the Justice Department, the device is comprised of magnets and wires that are stretched between the tracks. On a now-deleted LinkedIn page, Reiche was previously employed as a Deputy Field Organizer for Washington State Democrats.
In the criminal complaint, the Justice Department noted a potential connection between the alleged terrorists and anarchist groups. Claims of responsibility for the attacks as well as mentions of train sabotage were posted by the Puget Sound Anarchists on It's Going Down, a popular anarchist website which regularly engages in "doxxing" and harassment of Trump supporters and right-wing groups. The site lauded praise on the 'autonomous zones' in the Pacific Northwest and other anarchist actions and events.
"Following the initial shunting incidents on January 19, 2020, a claim of responsibility was published on the anarchist website itsgoingdown.org on January 22, 2020. This claim of responsibility stated that 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."
The case is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board as well as FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes agents from Customs and Border Protection, in connection with the BNSF Railway Police and the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office.
On October 11 and 12, multiple shunts were placed in three different locations in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The shunts triggered the automatic braking system of a train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material. The emergency braking caused a portion of the train to decouple from the engine. Decoupling has the potential to cause a derailment, similar to what happened in Custer.
The FBI has not revealed if it has any suspects in the December derailment and likely won’t until the FBI, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the NTSB complete their inquiries.